MINNEAPOLIS -- The disappointment and emotion were still raw when Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve walked into the postgame news conference with Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus. Defense and rebounding, two things the Lynx are known for, failed them in the fourth quarter when they absolutely needed it, costing them the back-to-back WNBA titles they sought to complete their dynastic résumé.
Reeve began her opening remarks by congratulating the Sparks on their 77-76 victory and WNBA title, and expressed pride in her own players. Then she addressed something that has been simmering with her and other WNBA coaches for years: the quality of the league's officiating.
A controversial no-call on what looked to be a 24-second violation on Nneka Ogwumike's turnaround jumper from the right baseline with 1 minute, 12 seconds to play -- which put the Sparks ahead 73-71 -- was at the heart of the criticism. The officials initially signaled for a review, but it never happened.
"I thought I saw them do this," said Moore, meaning a review. "But they didn't. It doesn't mean anything now."
This followed an egregious mistake in Game 4, when officials overlooked a backcourt violation on the Lynx with 26.1 seconds left and Minnesota up by two. The next day the league admitted the refs blew it and apologized.
That two such errors could occur in the final two games of a close, hard-fought championship series angered Reeve.
"Nneka Ogwumike's shot was not good," Reeve said. "It was reviewable at the time when she shot it. The referees at that point didn't think anything was wrong. They didn't understand it was the end of the clock. They didn't hear the shot clock."
Reeve continued, her voice rising: "It's really unfortunate that players continually put themselves out there playing and competing at a really high level, whether it was the eight-second call in the game in L.A. -- doesn't matter, OK? The game today, it's not fair to the players. It's not enough just to apologize and send out a memo that they got something wrong, OK? These players are so invested, and something must be done about the officiating in this league because it is not fair to these great players that we have."
A photo tweeted postgame by Lynx associate head coach Jim Petersen showed the ball still in Ogwumike's hand with the shot clock at zero.
Inexcusable. pic.twitter.com/O1sMtgHfoy— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) October 21, 2016
Asked how the league might fix the problem, Reeve said: "I don't get paid enough to have to do somebody else's job, too. Just get the simple things right. Simple. Eight-second call, shot-clock violation. Get the simple things right and we'll live with the other stuff that happens in a game."
Reeve soon circled back to the reason the Lynx lost: their inability to defend and rebound at crunch time.
In the fourth quarter the Sparks shot 55 percent and outrebounded the team with the best rebounding percentage in the league 10-5. It seemed unfathomable that the Lynx gave up 14 offensive rebounds on the night -- two on the possession with Ogwumike's game-winning putback -- to a team that ranked 10th in the league in rebounding.
"It's unfortunate," said Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson, who was denied a record fifth WNBA title. "We knew the keys to the game would be defense and rebounding. I feel like in the last five minutes we weren't getting the stops we needed. Then it came down to a rebound. But we knew those were going to be the keys. We just didn't get it done."
The sellout crowd of 19,423 stood and screamed as the Lynx, trailing by eight with 3:06 to play, suddenly came to life. Moore, whose 23 points and 11 assists nearly stole the game for Minnesota, hit a technical foul shot, then a left wing 3-pointer around a screen. Moore found Brunson (nine points, nine rebounds) for a short turnaround. Then Lindsay Whalen stole a Kristi Toliver pass and drove for a layup. Eight points in 61 seconds. Tie score.
More big shots followed. Ogwumike's disputed jumper. Augustus with a trademark left-wing pull-up. Then Brunson, making the second of two foul shots for a 74-73 lead with 23.4 seconds to play. The Lynx seemed on the verge of a miracle.
But there would be no league record-tying fourth title, and no back-to-back championship. In those final seconds the Lynx couldn't stop Candace Parker (28 points and 12 rebounds), who drove for a layup with 19.7 seconds left, or league MVP Ogwumike, who showed the same tenacity on that final possession the Lynx exhibited for six years.
"They scored at will in the paint in the second half," Reeve said. "We had them at 34 percent [from the field] in the first half. We were defending our tails off. Then in the second half, we didn't get it done. If we go look at a shot chart right now, it's not going to be pretty."
Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who dislocated a finger in the third quarter but kept playing, fought back tears in the locker room. So did Moore, Brunson and almost everyone else. Whalen hugged each player individually, then slumped at her locker. Janel McCarville, her teammate at the University of Minnesota, put an arm around her, but Whalen was inconsolable.
"I think we answered L.A.'s calls," Fowles said. "They answered our calls. Unfortunately it came down to a one-possession game. In a situation like that, you should never be up by one possession with a team like Los Angeles. You've got to give them credit for coming out and playing today, especially in that environment."