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MINNEAPOLIS — Nneka Ogwumike is so persistent around the basket, and as a result, the Los Angeles Sparks are the 2016 WNBA Champions.
With less than five seconds left and her team trailing by a point, Ogwumike, the reigning MVP, nailed a fallaway jumper as the Sparks stunned the defending-champion Minnesota Lynx for a 77-76 series-clinching win Thursday in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals.
“I want to tip my hat to Minnesota because both of us sort of brought the best out of each other this year,” Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “I think we played them eight times and I think it was 4-4 so it was very evenly matched competition. I’m really proud of our team. They believed in what we were doing and didn’t give up. Minnesota made a great run. You get the ball to your best players and they make plays.”
Named the Finals MVP, Candace Parker had 28 points and 12 rebounds on the way to winning her first title in her first Finals’ appearance.
“Candace has been through so much,” Ogwumike said. “She is probably the most misunderstood person in the league and she deserves this. I told her I wanted her to get one more than anybody else and she deserves this more than anyone. She had an awesome game tonight.”
With less than 19 seconds to go, Ogwumike dumped a pass to Parker for a layup and a Sparks’ 75-74 edge. But four seconds later on the other end, Moore (23 points, 11 assists, six rebounds) answered with a jumper to put Minnesota back in front.
On the other end of the floor, Chelsea Gray (11 points) missed a jumper but Ogwumike grabbed the rebound. Ogwumike put a shot up but it was blocked back in her direction by Sylvia Fowles. However on her next attempt, Ogwumike (12 points, 12 rebounds) created some distance between herself and Fowles before the shot dropped through the net with 3.1 seconds remaining.
“I’m so happy for everybody and so thankful,” Ogwumike said. “Coming into this game, I knew it was going to be hard. I told myself I have to be like a role player and that is what I did. I wanted to come in, get every rebound and set screens. I didn’t care if I had zero points. I wanted to do what I could for my team and that is what I knew I had to do for us to win.”
With no timeouts, Lindsay Whalen had to heave a shot from near halfcourt that hit the backboard as time expired, sealing the Sparks’ first title since 2002.
“I listened to one of [Pat Summitt’s] speeches before the game and she would have been proud about rebounding because it came down to rebounding and defense so I could hear her voice telling me to keep going and she was definitely present tonight,” said Parker, who emotionally said this was for her former and late coach.
After Kristi Toliver made a tough 3-pointer and Parker added a layup for a 71-63 score with 3:05 left in the fourth, L.A. appeared on the verge of sealing the game at the free-throw line. But Moore highlighted an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer from the wing and Whalen’s steal and layup capped things for a tied score with 1:47 left.
But Ogwumike made a jumper, which shouldn’t have counted since it came after the shot clock expired, for a two-point edge. However, Seimone Augustus (17 points) answered with a jumper of her own for a 73-73 tie with 55 seconds remaining.
During the first three quarters, the competition was tight like the lug nuts should be on a moving vehicle. There were 15 lead changes and nine ties, and the margin between the Lynx and Sparks never grew larger than six points.
The first quarter was virtually even (18-17 Minnesota) and the Lynx scooted ahead just a little in the second for a 34-28 halftime lead. The Sparks did rally to briefly jump ahead in the third period but Minnesota entered the final 10 minutes with a 55-54 edge.