Chelsea Gray hits game-winner, Sparks take 1-0 Finals lead


Did you change the channel after the first quarter? The Los Angeles Sparks did hold on to win Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals at Williams Arena in Minnesota. But it didn’t come easy for the defending champs.

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The Minnesota Lynx trailed by as many as 26, but would take a lead twice in the game’s final minute. Sparks All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray hit a pull up jumper with two seconds to play after Maya Moore had just given the Lynx a one point lead.

Takeaways from an exhilarating Game 1 of these 2017 WNBA Finals:

What to make of Sparks’ early run — and Minnesota’s response

12-0. 20-2. 28-2. Minnesota will be going back to the tape to see what can be learned from the Sparks’ early run. The Lynx ultimately battled back to tie the game at 78, then take a lead twice within the final minute.

“I think both teams are probably going to look at this game and say, you know, there’s a lot of things we can clean up and get better at.” Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler said afterwards.

The Sparks jumped out to a 28-2 lead in the first quarter on the road. They held on for a win. Remember: Minnesota holds home court advantage in this 2-2-1 format. What could possibly need cleaning up?


The Lynx put together multiple runs, taking the game down to the final minute. “They upped their intensity at the defensive end and really started pressuring us and made us stagnant.” Brian Agler said afterwards. “Over time, even in the first half, they got themselves back within striking distance.”

Two different 6-0 runs in the second quarter cut the Sparks’ lead to 11. Chelsea Gray, Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims each responded with buckets before the half to keep their lead at 10.

“We had the ability to keep matching them.” Agler said. “That was the big thing. When they made their runs, it took them a lot of possessions to do that.”

Jia Perkins, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus knocked down shots out of the half to get within five. The Sparks strung enough together to build its lead back up to 12 headed to the final quarter.

As we later saw, each of those responses — no matter how small — ultimately made a difference in how this one played out.

Chelsea Gray delivers in the clutch


Chelsea Gray made as many shots as anybody in Game 1. As Moore and MVP Sylvia Fowles both got going, Gray led the charge for Los Angeles. The WNBA’s regular season leader in 3PT shooting went 4-for-8 from deep and tied Moore with a game-high 27 points.

Gray had the final say near the left elbow with two seconds to play. Her other shots weren’t likely to come easy with Fowles looming to protect the basket. Gray hit tough pull up jumpers in the second half around that same area.

“It’s always important when you see the ball go through the basket. It creates a natural rhythm for you.” Gray said afterwards.

With Gray playing as well as she has in these playoffs and for so much of the season, those shots are no longer seen in the same light. Tough shots? Bad shots? For some. Not in this case.

When the shot clock was winding down, a set failed to materialize, or when her team trailed by one with six seconds left in Game 1 on the road in the Finals, Gray was able to deliver for the Sparks.

When Minnesota goes small

Jia Perkins ended up logging 28 minutes off the bench for the Lynx. Perkins was one of the constants in just about every key push from Minnesota to get back into the game.

“Jia gave us some tremendous minutes,” Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said afterwards. “We don’t get back into the game without Jia. I was really, really proud of her and what she did for us.”

Perkins spent much of her time in Game 1 on Chelsea Gray. “She was aggressive on the ball, forcing me different ways, forcing me to take tough shots.” Gray said. “Credit to her for her defensive effort. She made me work.”

Perkins also played a big role in making Minnesota’s offense work. Perkins’ two straight jump shots to kick off the second half cut LA’s lead to just six for the first time. Perkins spent much of her time on the floor with smaller lineups.

Ripple effects from that decision to play smaller could be seen on both sides. Maya Moore slid down a spot to guard Candace Parker. That’s a tall task for any wing player, especially mid-game. But Moore is equipped for something like that as well as anybody.

Offensively, Moore’s window to score felt much larger each time she touched the ball. Often with four Lynx around Fowles in those lineups, Moore was able to score effectively and attack off the bounce as Minnesota made its push.


The Lynx were able to sync up with Fowles more after the 28-2 start, finding her inside as she held off defenders with great seals. Seimone Augustus, meanwhile, showed no signs of slowing down after her ridiculous shooting performance in the semifinals against Washington (19 points, 8-for-14 shooting, 3-4 from deep).

Perkins was active and physical defensively, and set the stage for Minnesota to play smaller more. “If we have to make some adjustments like go small, obviously we’re ready to do that.” Reeve said postgame.

Rebekkah Brunson played just 16 minutes in Game 1 and shot 1-for-6. Perkins gave her team a much-needed lift. And as the Sparks prep for Game 2, those lineups made possible by her just might be one of the first items atop their agenda.

Game 2 tips at 8:00 PM EST on ESPN2.