Los Angeles, CA -- The Los Angeles Sparks: Reigning WNBA Champions, number two team in the league, and the only team in the WNBA to remain undefeated on their home court—until now. On Thursday, July 20, the Sparks’ 9-0 winning streak at home was broken, and not by just any team.
Los Angeles took on the Chicago Sky, a team that seemed to have all of the odds stacked against them since Elena Della Donne’s move to join the Washington Mystics in February. As we all know, the Sky isn’t exactly topping the charts right now, at just 8-13 and ranked 11 in the league.
Not too impressive compared to their competitor, Los Angeles, who sits pretty at 14-6 and second in the league, right? Furthermore, the Chicago Sky has not won a game at the Staples Center in a whopping three years.
To state the obvious, the Sparks were expected to have the game in the bag- tied up in their nice package full of offensive synchronization, and quick and agile ball handling, with a victory bow on top.
Now, fast-forward to the end of 40 minutes of point-for-point game play, and we have the Chicago Sky not only having defeated the No. 1 Minnesota Lynx a couple weeks ago, but the No. 2 Los Angeles Sparks, as well.
Talk about the rise of the underdog — and the upset of the year.
So, where did Los Angeles go wrong? The Sparks have a reputation of being unable to put teams away, and they lived up to that reputation against Chicago. Their defeat was nothing more than an inability to seal the deal in the face of a determined team.
Both teams were hot out of the gate, especially the Sparks. To nobody’s surprise, Los Angeles began the game immediately doing what they do best: getting points. For the first half, the Sparks were shooting 50-60% from the field. We even saw the power of their mighty bench, with Jantel Lavender leading the bench to 10 points in the second quarter.
Not shockingly, Nneka Ogwumike was the first player on the court to hit double digits, and the Sparks left the court for the locker room with a 45-35 10-point lead.
Yet, it was in the third period where things began to go south for Los Angeles. Their downslide was not due to a lack of effort. In fact, Alana Beard came out ready to own the court defensively- and she did! Even more so, she secured the number four spot on the WNBA’s all-time steals list.
“Honestly, I’m not really aware of it… but it’s kind of—it’s a cool accomplishment. It speaks testaments to how I pride myself defensively.”
But, her effort alone was not enough to keep the headstrong Sky from doing what they knew needed to get done. The new player to watch, Allie Quigley, stepped it up from her lackluster first half and, along with Stefanie Dolson, brought Chicago back up to just a four-point deficit, with a score of 60-56.
Perhaps it was that unexpected Sky come back that shook the Sparks in the last 10 minutes of play -- the 10 minutes that contributed the most to their loss. In the beginning of the quarter, we saw a very disjointed offensive effort from Los Angeles.
In fact, in the post-game stats, Los Angeles and Chicago were fairly well matched, that is, except in assists. Los Angeles ended the game with 15, compared to Chicago’s 22. Ironically enough, it was a beautiful assist from the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot (who hit her career high at 14 assists) to Dolson that cost the Sparks the game.
“I’ve never had a winning shot before, I’ve never made a buzzer beater. It was exciting,” Dolson said after the game. “I mean Allie set a great flare screen for me, that [got] me kinda open and it just worked you know it went in.”
Less than two minutes into the last quarter, Chicago was on a 7-0 run, and from that point on, Los Angeles couldn’t find an answer. With seconds left on the clock, Ogwumike had two looks at a layup that would tie the game. However, her attempts proved futile against a powerful Imani Boyette, who refused to see the game go into overtime.
“I had a good look and hoped it would go in the basket but it didn’t,” said Ogwumike. “We kept trying; I think even Candace [Parker] got a little tip after my attempts.”
Ultimately, the Sparks didn’t give us a “hard-to-watch” performance. They certainly scored their points, with their three WNBA All-Star players, Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and first-time All- Star player Chelsea Grey, scoring 24, 19, and 17 points, respectively.
Their field goal percentage was only 1.5 less than the Sky’s at 50.0% vs. 48.5%. Yet, their hunger to win simply didn’t match that of the new and improved Chicago’s. Sometimes, even with all of the proper parts in place to succeed, you simply cannot beat a team who refuses to be stopped.
“When you play a team that’s hungry in this league—there’s a lot of talent in this league on all of the teams, the hungriest teams are gonna win,” Los Angeles’ head coach Brian Agler stated on Chicago’s drive for success.
“I mean, they’re hungry. They’re fighting for their lives to get in the playoffs and they’ve won five of their last six games now. So at the end—the majority of have been road plus they won it versus Minnesota so they, uh, they’re playing well.”
The Los Angeles Sparks will be back at the Staples Center against the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, July 25 at 7:30 pm PT. As for Chicago, it too returns to the court on Tuesday, as its road trip continues at Connecticut; tip-off is set for 6 pm CT.