LOS ANGELES, CA — The Los Angeles Sparks pull ahead to 17-1, after defeating the Indiana Fever in a nail-biting fourth-quarter victory.
Fresh off her Player of the Week award, Nneka Ogwumike started the game strong for the Los Angeles Sparks with six quick points. If you thought her fire would dissolve soon, you thought wrong.
Los Angeles' brick-wall defense stifled the Fever's struggling offense, who is sitting second-to-last in the league with 79.8 points per game. The Fever were left standing for four minutes into the first quarter, until Erlana Larkins put up the team's first points off a tip-in rebound.
Larkins was the only Fever starter on the scoreboard with six points. The bench put up eight points to give Indiana 14 points to end the quarter.
Ogwumike finished the quarter with 11 points alone, followed by Candace Parker and Alana with four points apiece. The Sparks finished the quarter on top, 21-14.
Indiana did not fare much better in the second quarter. Los Angeles, however, lost a bit of its momentum, but never let go of its lead.
After a late timeout, the Sparks reignited, led by an Ogwumike jumper and an Essence Carson bucket from beyond the arc.
Jantel Lavender, who entered today's game as the new Sparks' franchise record-holder for most consecutive games played, was a major bright spot off the bench. She finished the half with six points and five rebounds.
Ogwumike led the Sparks with her perfect first-half performance, going 7-7 on field goals, 1-1 on threes, 2-2 at the line to go along with three assists.
"I don't think about when I'm going to get shots. I just know that when I see the shot, I gotta take it. I know when I'm capable of doing it, and I know when the right time is," Ogwumike said. "Our offense calls for a lot of ball movement, and when the ball finds you, our offense lets whoever it is know that it's a good shot to take. So, I know when it's a good shot, and I try my best to finish it."
Tamika Catchings, one of the top 20 WNBA players of all time, was held scoreless for the first 19 minutes of the game.
Los Angeles closed out the half shooting 55% from the field and ahead of Indiana, 41-30.
The Fever were first to score in the third quarter, and this time, it was the Sparks who were left standing. Kristi Toliver ended the drought for the Sparks with a jumper at the seven-minute mark.
Los Angeles then found its unstoppable rhythm to gain its largest lead of the game thus far at 18 points to end the quarter, 67-49.
Ogwumike, Parker, Beard, Toliver and Lavender all reached double-digits in the third quarter.
The Sparks started the fourth quarter hot, but Indiana proved it wasn't going down without a fight.
Los Angeles let its 21-point lead slip, and the Fever closed the gap to trail just five points behind with less than two minutes left in the game. Tiffany Mitchell and Catchings led the comeback effort.
Carson's downtown bucket gave the Sparks some breathing room, but the Fever pressed on.
Parker missed two from the line, and Mitchell followed with a pivotal three-pointer for the Fever to bring the score to 89-88 with 12 seconds left.
Carson grabbed two from the line, and with 1.1 seconds left, Parker blocked January's long shot. She kept control of the ball for a fast break layup to secure the Sparks' 17th win of the season.
Los Angeles hung on to finish on top, 94-88.
Tiffany Mitchell and Tamika Catchings led the comeback effort with 10 and eight points, respectively, in the fourth quarter.
"It was our aggressiveness," Catchings said. "I looked up at the scoreboard and realized that we were not that far off. We were down by 17, and so I said, ‘Okay, let's chip away.'
It was really a matter of everyone believing each other, and knowing that we can do it and that we were going to fight. We weren't going to fold. I'm proud of the effort down the stretch of this team and I'm proud that we didn't give up because it would've been easy to do that," she said.
Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler echoed Catchings on Indiana's aggressiveness.
"Indiana is a little bit unconventional in some of the things they do. They are really aggressive," Agler said. "As aggressive as they are normally, they got really aggressive in the fourth quarter and started trapping and denying. We handled it okay, and got some good shots. We missed some opportunities, but on the defensive end, we gave up a lot."
Ogwumike finished with a game-high 23 points, followed by Parker's 20.
Catchings' is on her farewell tour, as her historic career comes to an end this season. She returns to STAPLES Center one last time when the teams meet again in September.
"It's a huge accomplishment for our league to be around for 20 years," she said. "For me it's an honor to be around for as long as I have. We're in a great place when you look at the history and where we've been. It's really cool to have been a part of that."
"Catch is a player that I grew up watching," Parker said. "I've tried to kind of follow in her footsteps and idolize her. Off the court, I'm close with her as well. It's really special to be a part of her last season."
The Sparks close out their six-game home streak on Sunday against the Washington Mystics