Professional Basketball

Beard Hits Buzzer-Beater, Sparks Take 1-0 Lead in WNBA Finals


MINNEAPOLIS – Los Angeles guard Alana Beard hit a 21-foot jump shot as time expired to lift the visiting Sparks to a 78-76 victory in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals over the Minnesota Lynx in front of a sellout crowd of 12,113 at Target Center.


Los Angeles Sparks guard Alana Beard shoots the game winner over the outstretched arms of Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore as time expired during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

After a quick 4-0 burst to give Los Angeles the early lead to start the game, the two teams battled back and forth throughout the game which featured 19 ties and 10 lead changes.

The largest lead for the Sparks was five points which occurred twice, the first time occurred at the end of the first quarter with 5.3 seconds remaining when guard Kristi Toliver hit two free throws to give the Sparks a 21-16 advantage. Minnesota guard Lindsay Whelan was fouled by Sparks guard Chelsea Gray with 1.1 seconds left in the quarter to give the Sparks a 21-18 lead at the end of the frame.

“It’s two teams that kind of mirror one another statistically,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We do it differently but we value the same things. This is fully what we expected.”

The Sparks jumped out to a five-point lead again just 50 seconds into the second quarter when center Jantel Lavender hit a 15-foot jumper to give them a 23-18 lead, the last time Los Angeles would lead by five.

The Lynx held a four-point lead eight times during the contest, but each time was answered by points from the Sparks. The first time the Lynx led by that margin was with 23.1 seconds left in the second quarter when guard Lindsay Whalen scored on a driving layup to give the home team a 36-32 advantage. It was immediately answered by a Lavender layup which gave the Lynx a 36-34 lead at halftime.


Los Angeles Sparks guard Alana Beard blocks the shot of Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Whalen led all scorers in the first half with 12, Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting during the first two quarters. The surprise stat line of the first half was the fact that Lynx forward Maya Moore was held scoreless on 0-4 shooting.

“We tried to stay in plays with her, tried to make it difficult. I thought Essence [Carson] really fought her hard tonight. I thought Alana [Beard] fought her hard down the stretch. Chelsea [Gray] was on her at times,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “We talked about it at halftime, Maya is going to really try to get it going in the second half. They’re going to do things to try to get her looks, and I thought there were times we did a pretty good job of guarding her, and she still hit shots. She’s that good of a player, and we really respect what she can do.”

The Lynx gave up 11 turnovers which the Sparks converted for nine points in the first half. Los Angeles gave up 5 turnovers and two points during the half.

“You know, a big part of it is being able to take care of the ball, getting good shots,” said Whalen. “We’ll have to just have a concerted effort on that part, and give them credit for their defense. They did great and we’ll watch and see what we can do better for Tuesday.”


Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore shoots an off-balanced shot over Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Target Center. Moore now holds the WNBA Finals record for most points with 268, surpassing Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi’s mark of 262 points. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Moore was not held down for long. It took just 18 seconds into the third quarter for her to score a driving finger roll layup for her first points of the night, which extended the Lynx lead back to a four-point 38-34 margin. Lynx center Sylvia Fowles scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in the quarter, which ended with the Lynx leading 60-56.

“We’re definitely aware that our third quarters haven’t been very good starting out, so just sort of staying on each other and getting out of the locker room early,” said Beard regarding her team’s ability to stay competitive in the third quarter when the team normally has a letdown. “I think it became more mental than anything. So we were very focused on the start of the third quarter.”

The close contest was eerily similar to the finishes of two of the three regular season matchups between these teams. On June 21, the Lynx grabbed a 72-69 win in Los Angeles when guard Renee Montgomery hit a jumper with 2.9 seconds left. Though the Sparks answered with a decisive 94-76 win in Minneapolis just three days later, Minnesota grabbed a 77-74 win at Los Angeles on September 6 when Whalen intentionally missed a free throw with one second left in order to secure the victory.

Toliver and Gray teamed up for seven points each during the fourth quarter to keep the Sparks in contention as Moore added 10 points for the Lynx.


Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore attempts to block Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray’s shot during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

The Sparks held a 74-74 lead with 2:21 left in regulation when Gray missed a 26-foot jumper that was rebounded by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. Ten seconds later, Whalen pulled up for a 14-foot jumper inside the paint to tie the score, when Beard got her hands on the shot for a clean block.

“It was two big defensive stops, but I thought we had a few possessions before that that we put together a string of stops, and that was an important stint in this game,” said Beard.

Each team turned their next possession over, and Ogwumike hit a four-foot jumper off the glass to give the Sparks a 76-72 advantage with just 1:15 left. That was answered by a 15-foot jumper by Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. Gray missed a shot and then Moore scored on a layup with just 24.7 seconds remaining to tie the game at 76-76 setting up the game’s final possession.

“I think we were more worried about no letting anyone get to the hole,” said Fowles. “I’m not sure exactly what happened on that last play to make her get wide open.”

With five seconds left on the shot clock, Gray drove into the lane, which was defended by Augustus, and then passed to a wide-open Beard in the wing who nailed a 21-foot jumper over the outstretched arms of Moore as time expired to give the Sparks the 78-76 win.

“I was just watching the play,” said Beard. “I knew what we were looking for. I saw that Minnesota did a great job of taking away the options, which was expected, and Chelsea kind of rejected the screen and drove and read the defense. At one point, however many seconds left on the clock, you kind of have to take that shot, so I threw it up. I don’t think I’ve ever hit a game winner, so it’s pretty cool.”


Lynx guard Jia Perkins hits a wide open jumper in the third quarter. Sunday’s game was her first WNBA Finals appearance in 383 regular season games, the longest stretch for active players. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Agler admitted that it was a broken play.

“Yeah, that wasn’t option one,” he said. “That was option two. Option one was to try to get Kristi [Toliver] a look, try to get some cutters to the rim, and it didn’t develop. They did a good job of blowing that up, and so Chelsea just did a great job of penetrating in the gap. She looked like she was going to take it to the rim, but the really collapsed on her and she found Alana [Beard] in the corner, and Alana just knocked it down.”

Reeve knew what Agler’s options were.

“We knew exactly what they were running. We were ready. We got caught over-helping, and they made a good pass. We didn’t get a deflection and they knocked down a shot,” she said.

Toliver and Ogwumike led all scorers with 19 points, while Moore, Fowles and Whalen paced the Lynx with 18 points each. Fowles grabbed 13 rebounds to lead all players in that category. With her 18 point game, Moore now holds the all-time WNBA Finals scoring mark with 268 points, passing Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi’s mark of 262 points.

“L.A. game in here and beat us. They won the game. They had a great deal of energy and passion about what they were doing across the board. They handled adversity well and we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Reeve. “We didn’t play a clean game offensively in terms of passing the basketball, cutting and moving. A lot of our passes were deflected, which you can’t do. But we lost the game at the foul line and turnovers. We couldn’t defend without fouling.”

The Lynx and Sparks will meet for Game 2 of the WNBA Finals beginning at 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday at Target Center in Minneapolis.

“In that locker room is a very, very competitive group,” said Reeve. “We’ve still got 160 minutes to go. We have a mature group. It will hurt for a little bit and then you’ve just got to pick yourself up and move on to the next day.”

Agler, too, knows that this is a long series.

“We know that we have a worthy opponent we’re up against. Moving forward to Tuesday, we have to make sure we keep our same focus and same energy out there on the floor because we know that they’re a hungry team. They’re trying to make history, and they’re going to come after it.”


Coming into the game, Lynx guard Jia Perkins led all active WNBA players with 383 regular season games with no WNBA Finals appearances. That mark now reverts to San Antonio Stars

forward Monique Currie with 343 regular season games with no Finals appearances. The drought record is held by Michelle Snow, who appeared in 402 regular season games but failed to make it to the Finals in her 13-year career.

The WNBA held their 20-at-20 ceremony at halftime of Sunday’s game where some of the league’s greatest players received commemorative rings.





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