(Staples Center, Los Angeles)—With a (9-7) overall record and the following four Sparks players out due to injury—Candace Parker, Alana Beard, Alexis Jones, and Maria Vadeeva, then add Riquna Williams to the list due to her 10 game suspension by the WNBA, and that makes up a total of five badly needed players that Head Coach, Derek Fisher did not have at his disposal. The team re-signed Karlie Samuelson to fill a vacant roster spot.
Special Pre-Game Notes: 1) This game’s theme was “Campers Day” and due to its special place in the Front Office and the Community, the game produced the highest attendance of the season thus far with a verified 14,050 “sell-out”; 2) It was the Team’s lovable and talented mascot, Sparky’s Birthday; and 3) Dallas Wings Head Coach, Brian Agler returned to the Staples Center as an opposing coach after guiding the Sparks to their 2016 WNBA Championship. He brought his team in with an overall record (5-12).
(1st Qtr)—Sparks won the tip and immediately scored on a “back-door” layup by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (TRP), with the assist to Chiney Ogwumike. Then she came down and scored on her own lay-up, (4-0). The Wings tied it (4-4) at the 6:30 mark. Both teams got stuck in rhythm- finding efforts for a few minutes. The Sparks then took a (7-6) lead on a long Sydney Wiese 3-pointer coming at the 5:15 mark. Rookies Marina Mabrey and Kalani Brown subbed in at 3:32. A flurry of traded baskets moved the score to (10-9), Dallas. Then, Nneka Ogwumike was fouled in the act of shooting for 2 free throws. She sank both for an (11-10) lead at 2:42. A Wings basket underneath made it (12-11), Dallas. On this play,Chelsea Gray picked up her second personal foul on a typical “block-charge” call that the fans deemed questionable. It resulted in an “And 1” conventional 3-point play. Coach Fisher had no choice but to pull Gray from the contest. On the Sparks next possession, Kalani Brown scored to cut the lead to three. The Wings Imani McGee-Stafford fired up and hit a deep 3-pointer, making it (18-13), Wings. Nneka Ogwumike answered right back with her own 25′ trifecta, (18-16). The Wings worked hard on an offensive board for a put-back with just four seconds left and were rewarded. This ended the period at Dallas 20, Sparks 16.
(2nd Qtr)— The Wings came out “on fire” to start the period and grew their lead to 10, at (26-16). Coach Fisher smartly called a time out at 8:31 to talk things over. After drawing a play for Mabrey she then hit a 3-pointer, closing the gap to seven at (26-19). Forward, Glory Johnson then hit another trey for a (29-19) margin. Then a quick steal resulted in a Wings lay-up, (31-19). With 6:35 left in the half, Isabelle Harrison hit a baseline jumper for a 14 point lead, (33-19). The Sparks looked a bit dazed and out-of-sync until Mabrey picked up a loose ball in the key and then sank a 5′ jumper. (33-21). A few possessions later, it was (37-23) with 3:25 remaining in the half. After a Wings basket, making it (39-23), Mabrey sank another a 3-pointer, closing to 13 points at (39-26) with 2:22 left. After being fouled, C. Ogwumike stepped to the free throw line for a pair. She made both, closing (39-28). But Dallas answered with another 3-pointer, (42-28). C. Ogwumike quickly returned for another visit to the free throw stripe, and made both again. (42-30) Dallas. Mabrey then drained her developing offensive triple threat jump shot move, making it once again a ten point game, (42-32). Dallas had two more shots and missed both before the final buzzer ended the half.
HALFTIME SCORE: Dallas 42 Sparks 32
(3rd Qtr)—N. Ogwumike grabbed an offensive board and then maneuvered herself for a driving lay-up, (42-34). TRP hit a jumper, cutting the lead to six. N. Ogwumike was fouled in the act-of-shooting for 2 free throws, and she made both, (42-38), giving her 10 points in the game. After a (6-0) run, Kayla Thornton stopped it with a 15′ jumper. Chelsea Gray got underneath for a lay-up, closing the score to (44-40). The Wings Isabelle Harrison earned herself two free throws after grabbing another offensive board, and made both for a (46-40) lead. N. Ogwumike drove hard to the hoop and completed an “And 1” for a conventional 3-point play, closing again to three at (46-43) Dallas. Then C. Ogwumike scored on an assist from Chelsea Gray underneath. Lead was now cut to just one, (46-45). Time out was called by Dallas with 4:49 left. Guard, Ariel Ogunbowale dropped in a trey, followed by an Allisha Gray “put-back” for (51-45) advantage. The Sparks were careless in ball-handling and turned the ball over twice in a row. N. Ogwumike finally answered with 10′ jumper, (51-47) with 3:45 left in the period. C. Gray came down and penetrated for a great pull-back 7′ banker near the left lane (51-49). N. Ogwumike once again drew the foul on a drive. She made both to tie the game at (51-51). Mabrey and Brown were subbed in with 2:25 left. An “Over-The-Back” foul was whistled on Glory Johnson in the last two minutes of the period that sent N. Ogwumike to the line. With her two makes, the Sparks regained the lead at (53-51), These two free throws earned Nneka’s 20th point of the game. C. Gray always applying offensive pressure on her defender, drew a shooting foul, making one for a (54-51) lead. Kalani Brown drove hard to the basket and also drew the foul. She made both for a (56-51) lead with under a minute left. Both teams missed their shots in the closing seconds. Of Significance…The Sparks outscored the Wings, (24-9) in the period. Defense wins games.
(4th Qtr)—The teams traded hoops and it was (59-57) Sparks, at 6:25 left in game. A missed Fast Break scoring opportunity after steal by Nneka brought an“ooh-and-an-ahhh” from the totally appreciative and highly excited Campers Daycrowd. Both teams were still cold on offense but on defenseNneka O. made a great play near her basket when she took a charge with 5:10 left in the game.C. Gray made Dallas pay when she hit her patented“fall-back” 10′ jumper from the right baseline, making it (61-57).Dallas scored after a Media Time-out. Then came a “Wow moment” from the delirious and youthful fans when Chelsea dished off a tremendous, Magic Johnson “No-Look” pass to Nneka for a dramatic finish, (63-59). This was immediately followed by a “highlight reel” domination of the offensive boards by the Ogwumike sisters. After two misses by big sister Nneka, little sister, Chiney cleaned it up with a “power scoop-and-swoop” to the hoop, making it (65-59), Sparks. A jump ball wound up in the hands of TRP but then she subsequently missed an open jumper. Mabrey however, found a big rebound in the key to regain a new shot clock as time was winding down. C. Gray hit another jumper for a (67-59) lead. Wings reserve, Theresa Plaisance hit a long 3-pointer, (67-62), with just :17.9 seconds left. The wings could only foul, and they chose Mabrey, who easily dropped in the final two points of the game for the Sparks, (69-62). The Wings made their last shot with only :03.0 seconds left and then it was “Game Over!” With the victory, the Sparks moved to a (10-7) overall record.
FINAL SCORE: (10-7) Sparks 69 (5-13) Wings 64
NEXT UP: Road games on Saturday, 7/20 at New York Liberty. Tip-off is set for 12 noon PT, followed by a Tuesday, 7/23 match-up vs. Atlanta Dream. Tip-off is at 4 pm/PT. Sparks return home for a Thursday, 8/1 game against the Las Vegas Aces. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM.
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