(Los Angeles, CA. – Staples Center) Game Preview: The Sparks suited up facing two different game-day situations in last Tuesday’s match-up with the Dallas Wings. The first was an unexpected announcement that their All-WNBA Center/Power-Forward, Nneka Oqwumike would not play due to a back injury, possibly a slight sprain. The second, was that they still had a gigantic score to settle against their visiting opponents, who came in with a (6-6) overall record. The Wings were led by their two Top-10 WNBA scorers in shooting guard, Skylar Diggins-Smith (19.2 ppg) and 6-8 center, Liz Cambage (20.2 ppg), from Australia.
They took the Nneka announcement like Pros and compensated for the total lack of her presence, to wear down the Wings with a great team effort. Factor in the strong individual contributions of Candace Parker (29 pts) and Chelsea Gray (23 pts), who both picked up the slack for Ogwumike’s offense and some of her defense. Regarding the second situation, they pulled out the victory and avenged the loss at Dallas, winning by four.
Game Recap: 1st Q–The Sparks broke late from the gate as the Dallas Wings were airborne on their first possession and flew out to a 10-2 lead with 8:14 left. Jantel Lavender was inserted into the line-up when Nneka Ogwumike could not to start due to a back injury. The Sparks eventually strung three possessions togther and cut the lead to 2, at 10-8. Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, and Essence Carson all scored on that run. The turn-over bug hurt the Sparks and they paid the price when Skylar Diggins-Smith hit a 3-ball for 14-8 lead with 4:45 left. CP3 was once again very emphatic and effective with 6 early points. Subs Maria Vadeeva and Odyssey Sims were inserted at the 3:35 mark. Coach Agler drew a technical foul for walking too far onto the court after a foul was called on Sims when Liz Cambage fell to the floor. On the Sparks next possession, Candace Parker was then credited with a beautiful assist to Maria Vadeeva for a basket, cutting the lead to 17-15. Two free throws by CP3 then tied it at 17-17. Both teams turned the ball over 4 times each in the period. Of significance...Coach Agler once again started Essence Carson for height and size match-up issues. And, he used his bench effectively. The period ended with the score, Wings 21, Sparks 18.
2nd Q–Maria Vadeeva opened the scoring in the quarter with a basket after an assist from Candace Parker, 21-20, Wings. Riquna Williams checked in at the 8:20 mark for some instant offense. Chelsea Gray then made a steal and went 3/4 court on a dribble for a lay-up. But, Cayla George/Wings answered with a 3 poinetr. Riquna Williams then hit her first 3 of the game to give the Sparks their first lead at 25-24. A flurry of baskets gave the Wings a 30-25 lead. Chelsea Gray then cut it to 3 at 30-27. Williams then hit her second 3-ptr. to tie it at 30-30 with 5:36 left in the half. The score quickly rose to 38-30 after some hard work inside by Liz Cambage. Sparks then went cold and had to call a time-out with 3:40 left since they hadn’t scored since Williams’ 3-ptr. That changed when CP3 scored after the time-out. Williams hit another 3 cutting the lead to three, 38-35 Wings. The scored moved to 40-38 after an Odyssey Sims hoop. It was 42-38 Wings with 1:10 left. Azura Stevens/Wings hit back-to-back jumpers for a 44-38 lead. It turned to 44-40 after 2 free throws by CP3 came with :20 secondss left. To the crowd’s delight, Chelsea Gray hit a “buzzer-beater” to cut the lead to 4, at the half.
HALFTIME SCORE: Wings 46, Sparks 42
3rd Q–Chelsea Gray missed 2 free throws on a shooting foul. Candace Parker then scored on a lay-up after a steal by Alana Beard, who got credit for the assist, 46-44 Wings. A time-out was then taken by the Wings. A steal was credited to CP3 who went uncontested for a lay-up. The play occurred after an inadvertent slap to the face caused Liz Cambage to stop her play as she writhed in pain. The score was now tied at 46-46. Gray then hit a right side jumper for a 48-46 lead. A Beard drive was good for a 50-48 lead. Then Coach Agler was ejected from the game for his second technical foul. Liz Cambage got a put-back plus 1 on the foul by Beard, her 3rd personal, with 6:30 left, 52-50, Wings. Beard tied it again at 52-52 with another lay-up. Gray then hit a drive for a 54-52 lead. In the meantime, Cambage cleaned up on an offensive rebound for a basket, tying it at 54-54. Riquna Williams hit her fourth 3-ball, 57-54. But Cambage was there again for a repeat score, 57-56 Sparks. Cambage, the dominant 6-8 Center, kept the Wings in the game with her overall board play. Chelsea Gray hit a 3-pt. play for a 60-58 lead. The Wings then went up 66-60 after field goals by Diggins-Smith and Kayla Thornton. Thornton then hit another basket for a 68-60 lead. Sparks added 4 consecutive free throws by Odyssey Sims to narrow the gap to four as the quarter drew to a close. When the horn sounded, the scoreboard read, Wings 68, Sparks 64.
4th Q–CP3 led off the scoring with a dribble-drive and then a jumper, followed by an open court drive to the basket. She was fouled hard and went to the line for 2 free throws. Now with the lead, at 69-68, she missed both attempts, but after an Essence Carson steal and pass to Parker, she dished it off to Sims for a lay-up, 71-68, Sparks. Cambage hit 2 free throws, making it 71-70, with 7:30 left. Then Gray hit a 15′ jumper, 73-71 with 5 minutes left. Parker backed down her defense and drew an “And-1” pushing the score to 75-71. She missed her free throw. Maria Vadeeva was vigorously working both boards while Alana Beard was adding her growing number of season’s steals to her resume. Cambage continued to make a living at the free throw line, 75-73, Sparks. Fans’ heads turned as CP3’s sleight of hand & ball movement faked out Azura Stevens and drew another “And-1” opportunity, making it 78-73 with 3:15 left. The Sparks went into assisting mode and produced nicely executed plays to Beard from CP3, 80-76, followed by another Gray 15′ jumper from free throw line, 82-76, now with only 2:03 left. After a Wings time-out, they scored plus added a free throw making it 82-79 with 1:11 left. After a Sparks time out, Chelsea Gray hit a crucial turn-around jumper in middle of the key for an 84-81 lead to seal the victory with :20.1 seconds left. Both teams added free throws, to push the score to 87-83. Of significance…Candace Parker’s offensive masterpiece in the quarter evidenced by her scoring, passing, rebounding. And, Asst. Coach Bobbie Kelsey (Stanford) for doing a great job of taking over the team for Head Coach Brian Agler and securing the win.
FINAL SCORE: Sparks 87, Wings 83. Attendance: 10,002. The Sparks overall record rose to (11-3).
Sparks StatLine: Candace Parker/29 pts/7 assts/5 rebs/1 steal; Chelsea Gray/23 pts/2 rebs/3 assts/2 steals/1 blocked shot; Riquna Williams/12 pts/2 rebs/1 blocked shot; and Alana Beard/6 pts/5 rebs/2 assts/4 steals
Next At Home: Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, July 1st at 2:00 pm.
Photo Gallery: Anthony Ramirez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions