LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Spark
A small fiery particle thrown from a fire, alight in ashes.
Spark. Produced by striking two hard surfaces together, metal and stone.
Spark. A trace of intense feeling.
The Los Angeles Sparks are every bit of the definition. A team that has continued to work collectively, metal against stone, and with an intensity that has left all they have faced ablaze.
And the playoffs have been no different for Sparks Head Coach, Brian Agler, and company, who played host to the Chicago Sky Friday night under the gleaming lights of Staples Center, in hopes of taking game two of a best of five semi-finals series.
PERKS: Los Angeles came into the postseason as the No. 2 seed, a game shy behind Minnesota, but nonetheless, in the driver’s seat. In a revamped playoff format, the Sparks had 12 days rest before playing game one against Chicago on Wednesday night.
The rest appeared to be much needed, as Sparks forward Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike put up a combined 57 points on their way to a 95-75 victory at the Pyramid in Long Beach, California.
While only 24 miles down the 405 from Staples Center, the Pyramid is still not home for Los Angeles, an advantage the Sky should have capitalized on.
But now, at home, in front of a crowd that has exponentially grown respectively as has the Sparks’ this season, Staples Center added an extra layer of intimidation Friday night.
However, not easily intimidated, Chicago forward Tamera Young and guard Cappie Pondexter got the Sky’s offense off and running early. Young hit back-to-back shots, followed by Pondexter’s layup to give the Sky a 6-3 lead.
However, a three-point deficit is little, and it means much less when the league’s best three-point shooter is on the other side of the ball. Sparks guard Kristi Toliver, who has hit at least one three-point shot in every game played, got her first from beyond the arc off an assist from Parker to bring Los Angeles within one, 6-7.
True to MVP-esque form, Parker wasted no time establishing a rhythm on the floor that translated into early points and good team chemistry. Parker found both Ogwumike and Toliver in transition in back-to- back plays, which resulted in eight points and three assist for Parker.
“Nneka and Candace were playing at a really high level,” said Coach Agler, “and you can see that they had good chemistry. They are both excellent passers, and they found each other really well.
But the Sky responded in the opening act of the second quarter when center Erika de Souza hit a jumper off an assist from teammate Allie Quigley to take the lead, and more importantly spark momentum.
“I thought we got off to a pretty good start,” Coach Alger explained,” [but] then they made a really good run.”
However, Chicago’s hopes were short-lived as WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year winner, and Sparks center, Jantel Lavender hit a jumper. Teammate forward Essence Carson added insult to injury with back-to-back shots to increase Los Angeles’ lead to six, 35-29.
The second quarter was a lopsided scale which tipped mostly in Los Angeles’ favor, with Chicago’s 13 points in the final ten minutes of the half pale in companion to the Sparks’ 29. Parker closed the half with a two-point shot, and more importantly with her team up, 57-42.
But not to be disrespected, Sky Head Coach Pokey Chatman, used the intermission to send a message to her team, one that was made evident when Chicago took the court.
At the frontline for the Sky was Young and guard Courtney Vandersloot. Young hit a pair of two-point shots, followed by Vandersloot’s three-pointer to set in motion a 12-3 run that would bring the Sky within ten, 58-68, with less than three minutes to play in the third.
But the Sky simply had no answer for the Sparks offensive stamina, and Lavender continued to take advantage, putting up three two-point shots in the last two minutes of the quarter to increase Los Angeles’ lead to twenty, 78-58.
Pure exhaustion rendered the fourth quarter irrelevant, as Los Angeles ran away with it in the final minutes to take game 2 in what was another commanding victory, 99-84.
With one win away from stamping their ticket to the WNBA Finals, the Sparks remain vigilant on their quest to simply be better.
Yes, they still want to get better.
“We’re still learning,” explained Ogwumike.“It’s [the] playoffs, and we’re still learning about each other and learning about what we need to do and how we need to do it.”
And the best teacher is one who has been there before. For the Sparks, their teacher is Parker, who understands how hard it is to get where they are, and how much more difficult it is to get to where they ultimately want to go.
“My rookie year seems like it was yesterday,” explained Parker, “and we barely missed the Finals, and when I left the court, I thought we'll be back next year.”
But that wasn’t the case for Parker, and she wants to make sure that this time around they make it count.
“We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have and stay focused on that,” expressed Parker. “We have to focus on the little things, but while also seeing the bigger picture. Our goal is to get to the Finals and put ourselves in the best position to win a championship."
Yes, this is a best-of-five series.
And yes, anything can happen, it always does in sports.
But one thing is for certain.
With every passing game, the team that makes up the Los Angeles Sparks only continues to stroke the fire within one another, metal against stone, and if their intensity builds it could be at the expense of the team on the other end.
Amongst the ash.
The Sparks will head to Chicago for Game 3. Tip-off is at 3 PM EST on ESPN.