MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Chelsea Gray's contested off-balance shot in the lane at the buzzer gave the Los Angeles Sparks a 77-76 victory over the Minnesota Lynx in their season opener Sunday, an intense rematch of last year's WNBA finals.
Lindsay Whalen had 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter for the Lynx, including a pair of free throws with 5.8 seconds left. Gray, who finished with 18 points and eight assists, dribbled into traffic at the other end after a timeout and gave the short-handed Sparks some payback for losing the title last fall.
Odyssey Sims led the Sparks with 21 points, Nneka Ogwumike added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Essence Carson had 10 points. Los Angeles shot just 3 for 18 from 3-point range.
Sylvia Fowles had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Rebekkah Brunson pitched in 15 points, and Maya Moore had just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting for the Lynx. They had a staggering 24 turnovers that turned into 23 points for the Sparks.
The Sparks couldn't have expected much more production without star Candace Parker, who didn't take the trip because of what was announced as a back injury. Russian center Maria Vadeeva, a key offseason acquisition, has not joined the team yet. Jantel Lavender, another important veteran, has not finished with her overseas club yet, either.
The Sparks took control after a three-point deficit at halftime, and a backdoor bounce pass late in the third period from Ogwumike to Riquna Williams produced a layup for Los Angeles' biggest lead of the game at 53-43. Gray hustled for a pull-up in the paint jumper after a pair of free throws by Whalen to give the Sparks a 57-49 edge entering the final quarter.
The Lynx weren't going to back down, of course.
They were riled up when Fowles was whistled for an offensive foul in the post, with an agitated Whalen giving official Tiffany Bird an earful. A few minutes later, after Fowles cut the lead to 59-53 with a layup, Sparks newcomer Cappie Pondexter got into a shouting match with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve during the break in action. They were given a double technical, as were Whalen and Sims.
Fowles helped keep the Lynx rolling, turning yet another contact-in-traffic layup into a three-point play and a 68-65 advantage entering the final stretch. Ogwumike knocked down a 3-pointer for a 71-68 lead, and she turned a turnover by Brunson into a layup in transition and a five-point edge with 2:08 to play.
Fowles hit two foul shots with 56 seconds left to bring the Lynx to 73-72, and Sims answered with a long jumper. Whalen came back with a pair of free throws, and Fowles grabbed the rebound of a miss by the Sparks on the other end to set up the final possession.
Over the previous two years, the Sparks and Lynx split their 16 matchups, with five wins apiece in the playoffs and three victories each in the regular season.
Though the Sparks were irked that the WNBA scheduled them to open in Minnesota, thus forcing them to watch the rival Lynx celebrate the title one more time , there was no better way for the league to launch its 22nd season with this rematch of the last two finals that each lasted the full five games.
The title pairing was made possible in 2016 when the WNBA switched to a conference-less postseason format, and the Sparks won on Minnesota's home court that year. Last fall, the Lynx avenged that crushing loss by beating Los Angeles at Williams Arena, where Whalen played her college games. The newly minted head coach at her alma mater, Whalen has begun her 15th season in the league with only a commitment to play at least this year.