(Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA) – The L.A. Sparks were expecting another huge crowd to support them in their bid to win two consecutive games over their finalist rivals, the Minnesota Lynx. And they were not disappointed as 13,500 fans (1st sell-out) turned out for this storied and highly competitive rivalry match-up. The Lynx arrived in L.A. with an unexpected (2-4) record and were eager to confront the Sparks and avenge their season opener which they dropped to them at home on 5/20 by the score of 77-76. This game marked the second encounter within the first 10 games of the season and could serve as a barometer for measuring the all-important start of the season. As the spirited 6th player fanbase urged them on for the entire game, the Sparks responded with stellar performances from their starters. Candace Parker led the team in scoring with 19 and rebounding with 10, for her 1st Double-Double of the season. Chelsea Gray added 15 with 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Nneka Ogwumike scored 12 with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 1 blocked shot. Odyssey Sims shot 5 for 10 from the field and also scored 12 points. And, last but not least, Alana Beard chipped in with 9 points, 1 steal, 3 assists and a defensive game that was worth the price of admission. It should be well-noted that it’s extremely difficult to defeat the Sparks whenever they have 4 or 5 players scoring in double figures. At this point in the young season, the Sparks are currently in 2nd place behind their opponent tonight, the Seattle Storm who have a (5-1) record.
Game Summary: The 1st quarter was played very close as both teams struggled a bit to find their rhythms. The Sparks led 14-12 with 3 minutes left. They slightly increased this lead to 16-12 with 1:37 left. Candace Parker then went on a scoring spurt to push the lead to 20-12. The Lynx successfully cut that lead when they scored five points with the their last two possessions of the period. This ended the period with score, 20-17 Sparks.
In the second quarter, Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler inserted his recently returned veteran, Jantel Lavender, for some scoring punch. Add to this, last season’s WNBA “Defensive Player of the Year,” Alana Beard who was giving her all-out hustle on defense while forcing turnovers and hitting timely baskets. Both players were responsible for igniting a brief scoring run. Yet, the Lynx managed to stay close. The middle of the quarter swung back and forth until the Lynx tied the score at 25 all with 7:47 remaining. As the quarter was coming to a close, with 1:28 left, Chelsea Gray hit a shot that gave the Sparks a 36-33 lead. Next, Gray stole a pass and then earned an assist when Candace Parker hit a long jumper. The Sparks went up 40-35 with 4.5 secs left but they failed to check Maya Moore who buried a badly needed 3 pointer. The halftime score was Sparks 40, Lynx 38.
The game’s intermission seemed to energize both teams in the third period as they came back out for another round of battle. At the 8:47 mark technical fouls were assessed to Minnesota Head Coach, Cheryl Reeve and Seimone Augustus for loudly protesting a call. Nneka Ogwumike calmly sank the 2 free throws giving the Sparks a 42-40 lead. Per the Lynx game plan, they were led by their All-WNBA tandem of Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore who would finish the game with 18 and 14 points respectively. The third member of the Lynx All-WNBA starters, Lindsay Whalen, only played 7 minutes for the entire game. She did not appear in the 4th quarter.
Starting point guard, Odyssey Sims played a key role in the period as she scored timely baskets at the 5 minute mark. Riquna Williams also scored in this phase allowing the Sparks to keep keep a 6 point lead at this point. Then with 3:29 remaining, a textbook “give and go” that came from veteran Alana Beard to Nekka Ogwumike, resulted in an easy lay-up. Sims then scored on another lay-up at the 2:20 mark as the spree produced a 10 point lead at 56-46. The Lynx missed a string of shots that proved costly as the Sparks capitalized on their easy baskets. The period ended with the Sparks in front by 56-48.
Making most of her minutes in the 4th quarter, Riquna Williams hit 2 free throws moving the score to 58-50. Then after a steal, Odyssey Sims hit a beautiful 3 point jumper from the left wing for a 61-50 lead. The Lynx cut it to 10 again after a made free throw. Then Danielle Robinson/Lynx hit a long jumper for two. Candace Parker then answered that with her jump shot and gave the Sparks their 10 point lead again at 63-53. Essence Carson then hit a jumper for her only basket of the game, with 6:45 remaining, for a 12 point lead at 65-53. On the following possession, Chelsea Gray connected for a 3 pointer, moving the score to 68-58. Alana Beard hit a jumper for a 70-60 lead. Another “give and go” from Beard to Ogwumike gave the Sparks a solid grip on closing out the Lynx down the final stretch. At the 2:20 mark, Nekka Ogwumike moved the lead to 74-64. And, with just 1:15 left, while teams were exchanging baskets, it was Beard who hit a 20′ jumper with 35.5 left for 76-64 lead. After a single free throw by Chelsea Gray, and a few concession baskets made by the Lynx, the game ended with the final score, 77-69, Sparks.
Next Up: Seattle Storm (5-1) on 6/7/18. They are currently in 1st place in the Western Conference. You can follow the Sparks all season by bookmarking their home page here.
Photo Credit: Anthony Ramirez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions.