The Los Angeles Sparks secured a comeback win over the Chicago Sky, prevailing 84-81 on Sunday afternoon in Staples Center.
Coming off their confidence-inspiring victory in Vegas, the Sky started strong. Despite being down two starters — Jantel Lavender (foot) and Courtney Vandersloot (illness) — Chicago stretched their lead to 16 points in the first half, capitalizing on Los Angeles’ early sloppiness.
Much of the Sky’s early-game success was due to Gabby Williams and Cheyenne Parker. On the defensive end, Williams used her size to stall Chelsea Gray, forcing the Sparks guard into some uncharacteristically poor passes. Inside, Parker made things difficult for Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. The defensive pressure contributed to Chicago’s nine first-half fast-break points.
Unfortunately, Cheyenne Parker rather quickly picked up three fouls. When she went to the bench, Ogwumike went to work. Her five-point, four-rebound second quarter brought L.A. to within five points at the half: 44-39.
In the third quarter, the Sparks found an offensive groove, with Gray scoring on and off the ball.
Candace Parker did Candace Parker things, showing her signature versatility by creating for others and banging inside.
Without the services of Vandersloot, the Sky struggled to establish their usual offensive flow. But Diamond DeShields called on her athleticism and isolation skills and Allie Quigley drained some critical buckets — together keeping Chicago in the game.
The Sky converted defense to offense, propelled by Williams and Cheyenne Parker. Because of this pressure, the Sparks forced some shots and lost possessions. L.A. finished the game with 23 turnovers, including seven by Gray.
The contest remained close into the final minutes.
With just under 30 seconds to go, Gray drew a foul on a drive that sent her to the line; she made both free throws. The Sparks claimed a one-point lead, 82-81. After Allie Quigley missed a pull-up jumper, Gray secured the rebound and evaded the foul and found Candace Parker, who passed to Nneka Ogwumike for a layup and a three-point lead.
The scrappy Sky had one final shot. Quigley got off a clean shot attempt that rimmed out, allowing the Sparks to escape with their fifth-straight win.
Gray finished with a game-high 26 points, while Nneka Ogwumike registered another double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds). Maria Vadeeva added 12 points and 5 rebounds in less than 12 minutes off the bench. Quigley led Chicago with 20 points, while Cheyenne Parker contributed 19 points and 7 rebounds. DeShields scored 16 points and Williams tossed a team-high 6 assists.
Tiffany Hayes tried to will the Dream past the Fever, dropping a career-high 34 points while also dishing 4 assists and grabbing 5 rebounds. However, an all-around effort by Indiana allowed them to earn their third-straight home win. Erica Wheeler led the way with 19 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Teaira McCowan was a plus-12 off the bench, scoring some big buckets on her way to 13 points.
Things got a little bit too hot in Phoenix. Brittney Griner was ejected halfway through the fourth quarter after she reacted to a hard hack from Kristine Anigwe. The absence of Griner allowed Dallas to literally steal the game. With under 30 seconds to play, Isabelle Harrison dispossessed Leilani Mitchell, converting the fast-break layup to grab the lead and the game — the Wings’ first road win of the season. Arike Ogunbowale scored 23 points, helping her Rookie of the Year candidacy.
For more on the implications of the fight, please see the commentary from Swish Appeal’s editor-in-chief Tamryn Spruill.
On her way to 22 points, Alysha Clark only missed a single free throw, going 7-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. Even though Natasha Howard, Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd all shot below their standards, Seattle did not miss Clark’s one miss. They bested New York by a margin of 15 points in Barclays Center. For the Liberty, Kia Nurse’s post-All Star struggles continued as the emergent star made only 1-of-8 shots from the field.
Aerial Powers took advantage of the opportunity to start in place of Kristi Toliver. While Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Powers provided support for the #Stics superstar, using her activity and aggressiveness to tally 20 points and a pair of steals. Off the bench, Emma Meesseman added a season-high 25 points. In contrast, the Lynx struggled to find the scoring to complement Odyssey Sims’ 20 points. Sylvia Fowles, who seemingly should have been able to dominate the somewhat undersized Washington frontcourt, was beset by foul trouble, only managing three points.
Too many turnovers almost cost the Aces this game. But all of Vegas’ starters scored in double figures — highlighted by Liz Cambage’s double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds — to pull past the Sun. After going scoreless in her last game, Kelsey Plum bounced back with 16 points. Jonquel Jones again struggled for Connecticut, scoring only eight points. The Sun’s other key contributors — Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams — shot poorly from the field as well.
Where things stand
With the win, Washington vaulted to the top of the standings, surpassing Connecticut, who dropped their second-straight game and fell to the two seed. Los Angeles currently claims the three spot over Las Vegas, while Chicago remains fifth. Seattle, Minnesota and Phoenix round out the playoff slots.
On Tuesday, the Lynx and Aces play the Liberty and Dream, respectively. The Sun and Mercury will battle on Wednesday, with both trying to prevent a three-game slide. The Mystics play the Storm this week and the Sparks will go for six-straight wins against the Wings. Friday night’s slate features five games, including a rematch between the Sparks and Sky (in Chicago).