Los Angeles, CA — Two of the league's best met up for Game 1 of a best-of-five series for the chance to compete for the title. One of the Los Angeles Sparks biggest stars got a title of her own – Nneka Ogwumike was named league MVP this week and tonight she received her trophy. But I’m sure if you asked her, that title is great, but the one she is after is bigger than just herself.
“There has been a lot of love the past few days,” said Ogwmike. “In the end it is not about myself. I certainly did do it by myself. We know what we want to do and I’m sure everyone saw that tonight.”
Ogwumike was not the only star on display tonight. Jantel Lavender also earned herself a Sixth Woman of the Year Award this week, showing just how much of a team effort the Sparks’ success has been this year. On the other hand for their opponent, Elena Delle Donne was still out after having surgery, allowing for other members of the Sky to step up into the limelight.
This is where stars are born – or in this case, where the stars shone the brightest.
Cappie Pondexter got the Sky off to a hot start, while the Sparks suffered a few early turnovers – a problem that they have continued to have since the Olympic break. Chicago forced seven Los Angeles turnovers, but were unable to capitalize on all of them. Early fouls on both ends sent Imani Boyette to the bench early and put Candace Parker on alert.
However, the Sparks weren’t contained for long. After a timeout, they came out swinging. Ogwumike and Parker led the charge. But the Sky immediately responded, as Chicago finished the first quarter on a 6-0 run to keep the score within two with Parker and Pondexter lighting the path with eight points each for their respective teams.
After struggling early, the Sparks pair of MVPs decided enough was enough. Parker, a two-time league MVP herself, led both teams with 19 first-half points. Ogwumike was close behind with 13 of her own. And for tonight, it was the two of them together that steamed the engine that led Los Angeles.
Four-and-a-half years of chemistry was on display tonight. Two players with high basketball IQs, a desire to win, and unmatched skill know how to make something that should look hard, look really, really easy.
“My chemistry with Candace… there’s so much to learn from her,” said Ogwumike. “We understand each other’s game and we’re always showing each other what we can do on the court.”
Los Angeles pulled away in the second quarter finishing the first half 52-35 which left Chicago wishing they had their own MVP on the court tonight.
Ogwumike put some of her defensive skills that she was most proud of in winning her MVP award on display in the third quarter when she went coast to coast finishing off a steal with a layup. But her offense was the story of the third.
Twenty-five points each for Parker and Ogumike – that’s ¾ of their team’s total points in the first three-quarters of the game. Now that is some serious star power.
“Nneka and Candace were playing at a really high level,” said Head Coach Brian Agler. “And you can see that they had good chemistry. They are both excellent passers and they found each other really well.”
The Sparks looked to hold onto a 75-61 lead with one-quarter to go.
After shaking off the rust from their 12-day break, it felt as if Los Angeles was in control from there on out. Kristi Toliver took over for the Sparks in the fourth. Parker finished with 30 points and one rebound shy of a double-double while Ogwumike finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds and a double-double of her own.
Los Angeles beat Chicago 95-75 to take game one of the series.
The stars for the Sparks were the brightest lights in this game, without question -- that’s what the playoffs are about. They have a way of making the cream of the crop rise to the top, but they also have a way of bringing out new stars. That’s what the Sky need.
It’s not over for Chicago – not even close. That’s the beauty of a best-of-five series, and the fact that this was only game one. It will be no easy task to contain two of the league's best in Parker and Ogwumike, but without Delle Donne, the Sky need to dull the Sparks fire and find one of their own.
Will the stars keep shining for the Sparks throughout the series, or will a new star be born? If there was any doubt who the league MVP should have been before this game, there isn’t now.