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2019 WNBA Playoffs Analysis (Round 2): Chelsea Gray’s perimeter game, plus team defense, secured the Sparks a charter flight to the semifinals

The Seattle Storm put forth a valiant effort. But without the team’s chief playmaker and primary scorer, who missed the season with injuries, the veteran poise and championship leadership of the Los Angeles Sparks were too much for the defending champs to overcome.

Seattle Storm v Los Angeles Sparks - Game One
Chelsea Gray led the way in the Los Angeles Sparks’ 92-69 defeat of the defending champion Seattle Storm.
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The defending champion Seattle Storm put forth a valiant effort to repeat for a second straight WNBA championship. But without the Storm’s chief playmaker in Sue Bird and primary scorer in Breanna Stewart, the Los Angeles Sparks — with veteran point guard Chelsea Gray leading the charge — were too much to overcome.

Gray established herself early on offense and sustained her clutch shooting for a game-high 21 points on 50% shooting from the field and almost 76% shooting from three-point range. She got her teammates involved and they made strong contributions — gunning the offense to a 26-point advantage at one point.

The Sparks’ offense very much was a manifestation of their defense. L.A. forced Seattle into 17 turnovers and converted them into 18 points (Seattle was able to get eight points from nine L.A. turnovers.) The Sparks forced the Storm into collective inefficiency: -23 in plus/minus, while recording +23 themselves. They also held the Storm to 39.1% field goal shooting and 33.3% three-point shooting, while shooting 48.7% and 40.7 from the field and from beyond the arc, respectively.

Contributing to the Sparks’ win was their ability to get 21 second-chance points (to the Storm’s 10) — an area that will serve them well in their semifinals series with the No. 2 Connecticut Sun and league-leading rebounder Jonquel Jones.

As floor general Chelsea Gray goes, the Sparks go. They got the commanding win over the defending champs because of her decision-making: establishing her own shot before methodically including her teammates in the offense, increasingly stretching the floor and getting all scorers involved until the final buzzer sounded on their 92-69 victory.

In the semifinals, which tip off on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2), the Sparks have veteran experience and a championship edge — the won the title in 2016. But if the youth and speed of the Sun wear the Sparks down, Connecticut can pull off an upset. Even more, the Sun get to play their first two games at Mohegan sun, where they are 15-2 in the regular season (while the Sparks were 7-10 on the road).

Courtesy of WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, the Sparks took a chartered flight to Uncasville after Sunday’s win to allow ample rest, recovery and practice prior to their meeting with the Sun.