Maya Moore and Chelsea Gray took the same number of shots Sunday. They made the same number of shots. And they finished with the same point total.
The difference in one being the hero and the other one not came down to a matter of seconds.
Moore made her final shot with 6.5 seconds remaining in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Gray made her final shot with two seconds left.
Gray fired a closing dagger in a performance filled with clutch shots to stave off a historic comeback by the Lynx and give the Los Angeles Sparks an 85-84 victory at Williams Arena.
Both Moore and Gray led their teams in scoring with 27 points, but Gray’s 15-foot jumper over Seimone Augustus allowed the Sparks to steal home-court advantage in the best-of-five series.
“That was the best that I could do,” Augustus said of her defense on the final shot. “When somebody makes a great play, you tip your hat to them.”
The Lynx followed their game plan when defending that final play. They made Gray dribble to her left, and they kept her from driving to the basket.
No problem for Gray, who gained a step on Augustus as she dribbled hard to her left. Moore ran over to help, but Gray pulled up for a fadeaway jumper at the left elbow.
“All athletes dream of that moment, especially at this magnitude and at this stage,” Gray said. “You dream of hitting that shot.”
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve felt her defense gave Gray a little too much space in contesting her shot, but a clutch player delivered in a pressure situation.
“That’s an easy shot for her,” Reeve said. “A hard shot to make obviously in that moment. But that’s the world that she lives in.”
Game 1 will be remembered for two things: Gray’s shot and the Lynx’s late arrival to the party.
The Lynx looked as if they were stuck in another universe at the start of the game. Their performance in the first 6 ½ minutes was an abomination. They looked completely out of sorts in falling behind 28-2 and failing to collect a single rebound in the first quarter.
In summary, the Sparks did everything right, the Lynx did everything wrong. It was as if the Lynx were Finals rookies, not a championship operation familiar with the pressure of this stage.
That crater they dug put them in chase mode the rest of the game.
They kept chipping away and chipping away until it became Maya Moore time. She made a contested 15-foot jumper to cut the lead to 78-76, causing the old Barn to shake from the noise.
Moore followed with a steal and a driving layup to tie the game, raising the decibel level to headache-inducing territory.
Emotion shifted back and forth in the final minute as if the teams were tossing a hot potato. The Lynx looked like they blew it when Moore had her layup roll off the rim with 18 seconds left, trailing by one point.
“I couldn’t believe it didn’t go in,” Moore said. “But you have to bounce back and move on to the next play.”
Two missed free throws by the Sparks gave her that opportunity, and Moore flew down the court for a layup and one-point lead.
Moore played nearly 38 minutes and was asked to do more than provide scoring. Trading body blows with Sparks 6-4 forward Candace Parker all game, her physical defense helped limit Parker to 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
Moore shrugged when asked about having to guard Parker in addition to her role of primary scorer.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot more of that.”
Moore finished with 10 points in the fourth quarter, but it was not quite enough. Gray scored 11 and rewrote the ending with one final clutch shot.
Her jumper deflated the Lynx. Their start to the game is what defeated them.
chip scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org