With 13.1 seconds left in yet another one-possession game, the Los Angeles Sparks, down two, inbounded the ball.
The ball moved, left to right. Candace Parker set a screen, separating Chelsea Gray from Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, forcing Rebekkah Brunson to switch.
Gray beat Minnesota with a game-winner with two seconds left Sunday, a cold 14-footer while falling away that had given the Sparks their third win in the final seconds over the Lynx in six WNBA Finals games dating to last year.
This time Brunson wouldn’t allow it. She got her hands on the ball as Gray went up for a shot, deflecting it to Maya Moore with 3.9 seconds left, preserving a 70-68 victory in Game 2 that tied the best-of-five series 1-1 as the two teams head to Los Angeles.
“That shot Gray took in the last game was fresh in our minds,” Brunson said. “So I think we wanted to make it crowded for her. Make sure she didn’t get a good look.”
And suddenly the series looks a whole lot different.
In a game that was the inverse of Game 1, the Lynx had the big lead — up 20 points early in the third quarter — and the Sparks were the ones who fought back.
For a team that has been waiting for something to go right at the end of game, the wait was over. Probably because the Lynx took it into their own hands. With the offense failing down the stretch, it was the defense that held sway, forcing the Sparks into turnovers on their last two possessions.
“We made our own breaks,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “That’s what it’s about. We were far harder to play against in those final two possessions than we were in Game 1. Far harder. That’s what the Lynx are about, and so we finally got it done.”
This was a team effort. All five Lynx starters scored in double figures. Lindsay Whalen came out hard early, setting the tone, scoring seven points as the Lynx raced to an 11-5 lead. Center Sylvia Fowles was a monster on the boards, grabbing a Finals-record 17 boards to go with 13 points and two blocks. Moore had 13 points, Seimone Augustus 11.
“Just crash the boards,” said Fowles, the team’s zero-rebound total in the first quarter Sunday a fresh memory. “Every possession, crash the boards.”
But if you’re looking for a redemptive story, look to Brunson.
She struggled Sunday. She wasn’t aggressive enough on offense and it affected her defense as the Sparks raced to a 26-point first-quarter lead. As a result Reeve went to a small lineup that spurred Minnesota’s near comeback, with Brunson sitting.
Tuesday Brunson played a team-high 37-plus minutes. She scored 12 points and had three assists. Blocked three shots. And she covered Candace Parker all night.
Parker scored all 17 of her points in the second half. Held without a basket in the first half, she and Nneka Ogwumike combined for 25 second-half points.
And they were almost enough to bring the Sparks back. Parker had six points in an 11-4 run that cut a nine-point Lynx lead to two with her two free throws with 33.2 seconds left.
Then things got strange.
Moore missed. The Sparks got the rebound and called time out. But with 13.4 seconds left they were unable to inbound the ball, turning it over. At the other end, though, Augustus stumbled as Whalen inbounded the ball to her, the ball bouncing out of bounds.
So, the final play: “I knew that if we won, she was going to be a big part of it,” Reeve said of Brunson.
And she was.
“My mind-set was to be aggressive, to bring some energy,” Brunson said. “Last game we started flat. I didn’t want that to happen again.”