With the score tied up at 71 with under two minutes left in the last game of the WNBA Finals, the Sparks recovered an offensive rebound, swung the ball around, and eventually found their star Nneka Ogwumike for a relatively easy turnaround shot. She made it, and eventually would make the game-winning shot for the Sparks, who won the game by just a single point. Thing is, her first basket shouldn’t have counted, and had the rest of the game played out as it did from there, the Minnesota Lynx would be WNBA champions this morning.
As you can see, the ball is clearly in Ogwumike’s hand as the shot clock expires. The referees initially signaled for a review, but since play continued, they were unable to change the result at the next stoppage. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve ripped the WNBA and the officials immediately after the game:
“It’s not fair to the players,” Reeve shouted at the beginning of her postgame news conference. “It’s not enough just to apologize and send out a memo that they got something wrong. These players are so invested, and something must be done about the officiating in this league, because it isn’t fair to these great players.”
This morning, the WNBA formally admitted that the play should have been stopped and reviewed on the spot:
“After reviewing postgame video, we have determined that Nneka Ogwumike’s shot with 1:14 remaining in regulation time should not have counted due to a shot-clock violation, and that the referees improperly failed to review the play under the instant replay rules.”
Losing a double-elimination game on your home court is a pretty brutal way to end a season, but losing unfairly is even worse. While it’s impossible to know for sure that the Lynx would have won if Ogwumike’s illegal bucket hadn’t counted because of game states and other strategic uncertainties, it was a one- or two-point game the entire final two minutes and L.A. only won by one. Replay reviews are often overused, but there is no better time to take a second look at a controversial play than in a tie-game at the end of a Finals. If you can’t figure out an incredibly important play, then what’s the point?