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Duke in the WNBA: Beard, Gray help Sparks to WNBA title

<p>Chelsea Gray scored 11 straight points for the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 5 to help them win the WNBA title in dramatic fashion.</p>

Chelsea Gray scored 11 straight points for the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 5 to help them win the WNBA title in dramatic fashion.

For the third straight season, a former Blue Devil has lifted the WNBA championship trophy.

This time, however, it is not one, but two Duke standouts that helped the Los Angeles Sparks to their third title in franchise history and first since 2002.

Alana Beard and Chelsea Gray both played significant minutes throughout the championship series that came down to the final seconds of the deciding Game 5. Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike—the 2016 WNBA MVP—knocked down a 5-foot jump shot as she fell to the ground with just 3.1 seconds remaining to give the Sparks a 77-76 advantage. The game-winner wrapped up a frantic 12-second sequence after Minnesota Lynx guard Maya Moore nailed a turnaround baseline jumper to put the hosts up by one with less than 16 seconds to go.

Beard—one of just two Blue Devil women with her jersey retired at Cameron Indoor Stadium—started all five games of the WNBA Finals for Los Angeles. She led the Sparks with 37 minutes played in Game 5, finishing with eight points and a team-high six assists on the night. The 5-foot-11 guard nailed a game-winning jumper at the buzzer in Game 1 and averaged 13 points in Games 2 through 4.

It was Gray, though, that made her mark in the most crucial of moments in Game 5. The 11th overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft scored 11 consecutive Los Angeles points in a three-minute stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters. Gray finished Game 5 shooting 5-of-9, with all of her points coming during her hot streak that gave the Sparks a 60-59 lead with just eight minutes left.

The Hayward, Calif., native had an up-and-down Finals, posting just 11 points in Games 2 and 3 combined but bouncing back with a 20-point outburst in Game 4. In only 24 minutes Sunday, Gray came up big in a losing effort, shooting 4-for-5 from beyond the arc with three rebounds and a pair of steals.

Beard and Gray became the fourth and fifth former Duke standouts to win titles since 2012. Tricia Liston won last year with the Lynx, Mistie Bass won in 2014 with the Phoenix Mercury and Karima Christmas won in 2012 with the Indiana Fever.

Beard—a 13-year WNBA veteran—had the honor of cutting down the net for the Los Angeles.

The WNBA Finals MVP award was handed to Candace Parker, who is married to former Duke men's basketball star Shelden Williams. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft out of Tennessee, Parker averaged 19.3 points throughout the playoffs and added a game-high 28 points in the season finale. The 6-foot-4 forward also pulled down 12 rebounds Thursday to notch a double-double and dedicated the championship to her college coach Pat Summitt, who died earlier this year after a lengthy battle with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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