Cheryl Reeve walked to the podium, sat down, sighed. Before the first question could be asked she said:
Don’t carp on the big comeback, don’t seek out a silver lining. “That’s not the world we live in,’’ she said. “That means absolutely nothing to us. It’s what we did in the early part of the game that we’re focused on.’’
And so, after dropping Game 1 of the WNBA finals at home for the fourth time in six tries, after Los Angeles guard Chelsea Gray had hit a 14-foot jumper over Seimone Augustus with 2 seconds left for an 85-84 victory at Williams Arena Sunday, the Lynx were focused on how the game began, not on how it ended.
And it was ugly.
In front of an announced crowd of11,823 fans, the Lynx took the floor and got floored. The Sparks hit their first five shots and led 12-0 before 4 minutes were gone. The L.A. lead was 20 mid-way through the quarter. When Gray hit two free throws with 2:26 left in the first the Sparks led 28-2.
Twenty-eight to two.
Yes, the Lynx, who went small with third guard Jia Perkins, outscored the Sparks 82-57 over the final 32-plus minutes. Yes, down 12 with just over 5 minutes left to play Maya Moore scored six points in a 12-0 run, her steal and fast break amid an ear-piercing roar from the crowd tying the game at 78 with 2:10 left to play.
Yes, the Lynx took two leads in the final minute — a one-point lead on Augustus’ three-pointer with 49.8 seconds left and an 84-83 lead on Moore’s fast-break layup with 6.5.
But don’t talk to the Lynx about that. Not after Gray’s game-winner, which cut much like Nneka Ogwumike’s put-back in the closing seconds of Game Five last year. All five Sparks starters scored in double figures, but Gray scored 27 points, the last two coming on that fading jumper. “Adrenaline was just running through me,’’ Gray said. “I’m glad they didn’t make a half-court shot.’’
After the game ended, the Lynx went back to the beginning.
In that stretch the Lynx went 1-for-12 and turned the ball over three times. The Sparks, meanwhile, made 10 of their first 13 shots, including four three-pointers.
“Just a combination of not scoring the ball and they were hot,’’ said Moore, who matched Gray with 27 points. You know, such a crucial point in the series and we definitely dug ourselves a hole.’’
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles scored 22 points with 13 rebounds, but it took a half the first quarter to get her a touch against a Sparks defense that collapsed around her.
But, whether they’ll dwell on it or not, the Lynx did fight back.
After L.A.’s big start, the Lynx finished the half on a 31-15 run to pull within 10. The Lynx were down 12 after three and still down 12 when the Lynx gave a final push. With the Sparks going 0-for-5 with two turnovers, the Lynx scored 12 straight, the last four by Moore.
But the Sparks didn’t back down. After Fowles tied the game at 79, Gray hit a 13-footer with a minute left. After Augustus hit her trey, Ogwumike hit a jumper. After the Lynx rebounded a missed free throw and turned it into Moore’s fast-break layup, Gray hit again.
Had Gray’s shot missed, it would have been the biggest comeback in WNBA playoff history.
But she didn’t miss.
“That’s the best I can do,’’ Augustus said of her defense on Gray’s shot. “You have to shake her hand. That’s something you’re taught, when somebody makes a great play, you tip your hat to ‘em, and I’ll see you Tuesday.’’