For a half-hour before the game Sunday, the Lynx celebrated their 2017 WNBA championship.
Players got their rings. Target Center got another banner. Fans got to cheer. A lot. The Los Angeles Sparks — last year’s foil in the WNBA Finals — got to watch.
Then the Lynx went out and spent most of 40 minutes looking very little like that 2017 team.
“I’ll start by saying how much I appreciate the fans being present the way they were for the ceremony,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We could probably end with that, if you want. Because it wasn’t much after that.”
No, it wasn’t.
Playing without All-Star Candace Parker but playing, perhaps, with a chip on their shoulder, the Sparks exited Target Center 77-76 winners on Chelsea Gray’s driving basket as time expired.
The Lynx turned the ball over 24 times, more than they did at any point last season. The Sparks had a 23-12 edge on points off turnovers, and took 17 more shots than the home team, which pretty much tells the story.
In a game that featured several significant runs, the Lynx’s last-quarter push came up short. And now the Lynx are 0-1 for only the second time in the Reeve era. They had won their previous 23 games in May.
“Honestly, I can’t even explain it,” Reeve said. “We had so many players out there that I have no idea what they were doing.”
Down to one real post player in Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks flooded the defensive zone, collapsing around Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds, but also six turnovers.
“They just kept flooding, flooding, flooding,” Reeve said. “And we botched every opportunity on the inside. So Syl couldn’t hold it. Syl didn’t have any poise. We forced it to her. Just dumb. Dumb basketball. How do you have that big an advantage and you can’t exploit it?”
The game had the requisite intensity of two teams that have faced each other in consecutive WNBA Finals; with 8 minutes, 9 seconds left, four technicals were called. The Lynx’s Lindsay Whalen and Los Angeles’ Odyssey Sims each drew one, as did Reeve and Sparks guard Cappie Pondexter.
Down eight with 6:22 left, the Lynx had one final run, led by Whalen, who scored four points and had an assist as the Lynx took a 68-66 lead.
Whalen, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, hit two free throws with 5.8 seconds left to give the Lynx a one-point lead.
Out of a timeout, the Sparks had the ball and the Lynx had a foul to give. Seimone Augustus, guarding Gray, did not foul, and Gray drove and scored.
Sims scored a game-high 21 points. Gray had 18 and Ogwumike had 19. The Lynx got 17 points from Whalen and 15 each from Rebekkah Brunson and Fowles. Maya Moore had 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Moore, Brunson and Fowles committed 14 of the team’s 24 turnovers.
“I thought Maya wasn’t letting the game come to her,” Reeve said. “She was trying to do difficult things. Which was unfortunate, because we needed Maya today.”
“Turnovers are effort and focus,” Moore said. “Giving a good team that many extra possessions, some of them leading to uncontested layups, is not going to help you win against a good team. The things we could control, that we didn’t control, is the frustrating part. A lot to learn from, to be motivated by.”
It was a difficult way for the Lynx to end a night that began with so much celebration. Now the team has two days before Dallas comes to Target Center on Wednesday.
“The mental things, the turnovers, were for sure disappointing,” Whalen said. “I’m sure we’ll be cleaning a lot of this up this week and see what we need to do to play better.”