Sparks beat Lynx on Whalen's jersey retirement day
MINNEAPOLIS — Riquna Williams scored 25 points, Chelsea Gray added 21 and the Los Angeles Sparks edged the Lynx 89-85 on Saturday, spoiling a special day for their rivals who retired the jersey of Minnesota native and star Lindsay Whalen.
Gray capped her string of eight-straight points in the fourth quarter with a shot-clock beating 5-footer off an inbounds play with 8.5 seconds remaining to give the Sparks an 87-83 lead. Gray put up a tough 10-foot shot with clock winding down and missed the rim but the ball went off a Minnesota player. On the inbounds, Gray set a screen on the wing then rolled toward inbounder Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Gray took the pass, dribbled once to get inside the lane then stepped back and knocked down the short shot.
Sylvia Fowles, who had 20 points to surpass 5,000 for her career, scored with 2.1 seconds left and the Lynx fouled Gray in the backcourt with 1.2 to play. After Gray made a free throw, officials were told it was only a fourth team foul for Minnesota, so Los Angeles inbounded the ball again.
Williams, who is being investigated for domestic assault and burglary, had her first double-figure game of the season and clinched the win with two free throws with .1 second to go.
It was a typical intense game between the teams that split when facing off for WNBA titles in 2016 and 2017.
Los Angeles led most of the way but every time the Lynx surged back. It was tied at 17 after one quarter and the Sparks led 44-39 at the half. Minnesota cut it to one entering the fourth quarter. Ruffin-Pratt opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and Marina Mabrey had a layup for a 72-66 lead. Gray pushed the lead to 81-71 just past the midway point of the fourth quarter but rookie Napheesa Collier scored five quick points and Danielle Robinson followed with a layup to cut the deficit to three.
Lexie Brown's 3-pointer at 1:11 made it 83-82 but Gray answered with a step-back jumper. Collier made a free throw with 33.4 to go to cut LA's lead to 85-83.
Ruffin-Pratt had 17 points and Chiney Ogwumike had 14 and split 18 rebounds with her sister Nneka.
Brown led Minnesota with 21 points and Collier had 18. Fowles also had 13 rebounds and is the fifth WNBA player with 5,000 points and 3,000 rebounds.
THEY CALL HER WEEZY
Whalen, who took the University of Minnesota to the NCAA Final Four, was named the Gophers' coach for the 2018-19 seasons and retired after the 2018 WNBA season. In her 15-year career, the first six with the Connecticut Sun, Whalen set a record for career games and is third in career assists while making the All-Star team six times. The Hutchinson, Minnesota, native helped the Lynx win four WNBA championships.
The only player with 5,000 points, 2,000 assists and 1,500 rebounds, Whalen's No. 13 jersey is the first retired by the Lynx.
"Getting to know people on and off the court is just special," Whalen said in a television interview during the game. "It's relationships and the people along the way."
She said winning never got old.
"Up until I decided to retire we just kept saying, 'Let's do it again ... it's fun,'" she said. "We were having a lot of fun on the court and everybody had something to prove at different times."
Whalen said the key ingredient was a toughness instill by coach Cheryl Reeves.
Sparks: Play their fourth-straight road game at Phoenix on Friday.
Lynx: Travel to face the New York Liberty on Wednesday.