Sparks KO defending champion Lynx
LOS ANGELES—Chelsea Gray recorded 26 points and six assists to lead the Los Angeles Sparks to a 75-68 victory over the visiting Minnesota Lynx in the first round of the WNBA playoffs on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Nneka Ogwumike added 19 points and Riquna Williams scored 17 points for sixth-seeded Los Angeles, which lost four of its final five regular-season contests before notching the playoff victory.
The Sparks face the third-seeded Washington Mystics in Thursday's second round. The next round also is a one-and-done scenario.
Sylvia Fowles collected 18 points and 12 rebounds for seventh-seeded Minnesota, which closes the season with four defeats in five games. Temi Fagbenle added 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting while Maya Moore scored 14 points as the defending champion Lynx were eliminated in the first round for the first time since 2004.
Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen, 36, had nine points, six rebounds and five assists in the final contest of her 15-year career.
The Sparks and the Lynx had met in each of the past two WNBA Finals—splitting the crowns—and they waged another tight battle in the elimination contest.
Minnesota had a chance to cut its deficit to one but Moore missed two free throws with 1:55 left. Gray answered with a jumper to make it 70-65 with 1:36 remaining, and Ogwumike added two throws 34 seconds later.
Fagbenle connected on a corner 3-pointer to move the Lynx within 72-68 with 52.4 seconds to go, but Minnesota wouldn't score again. Ogwumike split two free throws to give Los Angeles a five-point lead with 14.4 seconds left, and Williams' steal and ensuing two free throws with 8.1 seconds left wrapped up the victory.
Moore was scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all four field-goal attempts in addition to the two missed free throws. She wound up 6 of 15 from the field and 1 of 5 from the line.
Los Angeles led by three points at halftime before opening the third quarter with a 14-4 surge.
Gray and Williams each knocked down two 3-pointers during that stretch as the Sparks took a 54-41 lead with 4:59 left in the quarter.
Williams drained another 3-pointer to make it 57-43 with 2:49 left in the period before Minnesota rattled off nine straight to move within five.
Los Angeles led 58-52 entering the final stanza, but the Lynx moved within 62-59 on Whalen's 3-pointer with 7:22 remaining.
Ogwumike had 16 first-half points on 6-of-7 shooting and Gray scored 14 points before halftime as Los Angeles rallied from an 11-point, second-quarter deficit to take a 40-37 lead at the break.
Ogwumike (12) and Gray (11) combined for 23 of the Sparks' 25 second-quarter points.
Minnesota led 32-21 after Fagbenle's basket with 5:31 left in the half before Los Angeles erupted with a 13-2 surge to tie it at 34 with 2:19 to play.