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LA Sparks working on late-game execution

The Los Angeles Sparks have already had a few games come down to the final moments. Let’s take a look back at what’s gone right and wrong in these games.

Los Angeles Sparks v Seattle Storm
From left to right: Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes and Liz Cambage
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The game is 40 minutes long, but often it comes down to the final seconds to decide who will be the victor. And when dealing with a game that’s being decided by the closing seconds, the smallest decisions have the biggest impact. Making your rotations, closing out, and hitting shots separate the victors from the losers.

So far this year, the Sparks have had three games come down to the final seconds, all resulting in losses in different ways. Today, we take a look at each game and break down what went right and wrong in these moments for LA.

Sparks vs. Dream (The Ogwumike misses)

The first close game of the season was the road loss to the Dream, 77-75. On the final possession, the Sparks got two solid looks at the basket but came up short. It started with a combination of Jordin Canada and Chiney Ogwumike. Chiney inbounds the ball to Canada and then runs slightly ahead of her up the court. Once they head up the court, she and Nneka Ogwumike set a double pick to open up the left side of the floor for Canada.

While Canada heads to the open left side wing, Lexie Brown comes up and sets the screen for Chiney, freeing her up to head towards the basket. At the top of the key, you have Nneka setting a screen for Brown, freeing her up as a shooter. Unfortunately, the next sequence was good but not perfect. Canada does make the pass to Chiney, but it’s too high and the younger Ogwumike has to reach up to get it. This slight adjustment eliminates her advantage, as defenders are able to surround her.

The end of this possession is a disappointing one. Chiney struggles as she is triple-teamed under the basket. She manages to get a shot off but misses. Even in the miss, she keeps hope alive by making contact with the basketball and tipping it to her sister, who takes a turnaround jumper and misses, concluding the possession and the game.

Lynx vs. Sparks (What was that?!)

The next close loss was disappointing and bizarre. It was the Sparks’ home opener, and it concluded with an 87-84 loss to the Minnesota Lynx. Down by three with 2.1 seconds left, the Sparks had a final chance to win the game and what happened next is hard to explain.

The possession starts with Katie Lou Samuelson inbounding the ball. Brown sets a screen for Liz Cambage, freeing her up under the basket. However the Sparks are down three, so why look for a two at all? According to coach Derek Fisher postgame, the idea was to lob the ball to Liz and then kick it out to a shooter. Seems a bit odd, but when you rewatch the play it does look like Canada was going to run to the top of the key but opted not to when the lob hit the rim instead of reaching Cambage’s hands.

Canada made the best of a rough situation. She recovered the ball, ran to the corner, and took the game-tying shot. It didn’t go in, and the lob was so bad it made the team look lost, but there was a method to the madness. Ultimately the Sparks got a decent look, and it just didn’t go in.

Sparks vs. Storm (Another corner three)

In the most recent game, the Sparks fell to the Storm 83-80. They got a great look from the corner but just couldn’t convert. The possession was a bit sloppy, but the Sparks maintained composure and got what they wanted, an open shot to tie the game on the road. Canada picked up her dribble at the three-point line and got the legend Sue Bird to jump out of her shoes. The Sparks guard couldn’t get a good look for herself, so she passed to Brittney Sykes, who kicked it out to Nneka Ogwumike for the last shot.

Trust the process

Despite the results being three losses in three close games, the process has been good overall. At every opportunity, the Sparks got a decent to good look and just failed to convert. Converting is going to come with time and repetition in practice, all things the Sparks haven’t gotten so far in this early season. The team also needs to stop digging itself early holes to avoid needing late-game heroics, as L.A. currently has the worst first-quarter plus-minus (minus-5.8) in the league).

The Sparks’ next game is against the Las Vegas Aces in Liz Cambage’s return to Michelob ULTRA Arena. Will the Sparks execute better late in tonight’s contest if it comes down to the final possession? It begins at 10 p.m. ET.