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Canada makes clutch free throws, N. Ogwumike seals deal in overtime for Sparks

The defending champion Chicago Sky ran out of gas and fell to the Los Angeles Sparks in their highly-anticipated opener.

Los Angeles Sparks v Chicago Sky
Jordin Canada
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

CHICAGO — The time has finally come. The 2022 WNBA season is officially underway and eyes were fixated on the defending champion Chicago Sky as they took on the Los Angeles Sparks at home.

Before the game, there was a special recognition of the Sky’s 2021 title run.

High expectations for the Sky would be an understatement because not only are they looking to repeat as champions, but they are looking to get their season off on the right track and avoid any risk of struggle considering their ups and downs during the last regular season.

Furthermore, those expectations are in part due to the newly revamped Sky roster which includes some additional experience to their already proven roser that includes the likes of Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigly, Courtney Vandersloot, and of course Candace Parker.

As for the Sparks, they are coming off a 12-20 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

The Sparks look to get back into the game with the additions of four-time All Star Liz Cambage and No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft Chennedy Carter to play alongside former MVP and WNBA union president Nneka Ogwumike and her sister and ESPN analyst Chiney Oguwimike.

The stars were aligned on both sides and then it was game on.

From the start, the Sky wasted no time in getting on a roll and quickly jumped out to a 12-2 lead. Parker had seven of those points and power forward Azurá Stevens had five at the 6:27 mark.

Meanwhile, the Sparks were largely struggling to get into groove and make good shots but as the first quarter started to wind down they began to make inroads with some hard drives to the basket and conversions from beyond the arc.

Nneka Oguimke had eight points at the four-minute mark and helped bring her team back within one at 14-13.

At the 2:16 mark, former Sky player Lexie Brown hit a three to tie the game at 18-18 as her former team began to turn the ball over more and send the Sparks to the foul line. At the 1:52 mark, two free throws by Rae Burrell gave LA the lead, 20-18.

With 57.4 seconds left, Vandersloot hit a three to give the Sky a 25-22 lead and that is how the first quarter ended.

As the second quarter commenced, the pace of the Sky started to cool and they showed some signs of fatigue whereas the Sparks defense was putting on much more pressure.

At the 5:53 mark, the Sparks led 30-29.

LA started to get into a groove and soon found themselves up 35-31 with exactly 4:00 left whereas the Sky were not converting on shots that they would normally make.

At the 2:36 mark, LA was leading 37-35 with Oguimke having 13 points.

At the end of the first half, the Sparks led 42-39.

At the beginning of the third quarter, the shooting woes continued for the Sky and the Sparks were clearly in control of the game.

By the 6:49 mark, the Sky started to pick up the pace and, after a series of baskets, they managed to bring the game within a basket at 49-47.

Shortly thereafter, at the 6:33 mark, Parker did what only she can do and brought the lead back to Chicago with a three at 50-49.

At 5:57, a strong drive to the basket by Dana Evens resulting in a 3-point play gave the Sky a 55-51 lead.

The Sky were a changed team from that point on as they took back control at both ends of the floor and at 5:10 they were leading 57-51 with Parker having 19 points.

As the third quarter came to a close, the teams were engaged in an epic back and forth battle that made it clear that this season opener was going down to the wire.

WIth 59 seconds left, Evans hit a crucial three to bring the Sky within a point 66-65 and then at 30 seconds Sparkle Taylor gave them the lead at 67-66. Finally, to conclude the quarter, Evans scored her 12th point to make it 69-66 going into the fourth.

The final frame started with a continuing theme of back and forth.

At 5:24, Brittney Sykes gave the Sparks the 76-75 lead but quickly thereafter Meesseman got it back for Chicago at 77-76.

At the 3:47 minute mark, who else but Parker hit a crucial basket from the corner to give the Sky an 81-76 lead.

The Sparks answered right back with a series of baskets off Sky turnovers that brought them back to within a basket at 81-80 and you could start to feel both the excitement and tension in Wintrust Arena.

At 1:45, Meesseman increased it to a five-point lead at 85-80, giving Chicago a little bit of breathing room.

But the tide somewhat turned when Lexie Brown hit a three to make it an 85-83 game and the Sparks called a time out with 55.4 seconds left.

At 42.3 seconds, Jordin Canada hit a dramatic floater for LA to tie the game, but never count out Parker. She took control and dished it to Meesseman for an epic layup that gave Chicago the lead, 87-85, with 11.4 seconds left.

With 6.7 seconds left, the Sky inbounded the ball looking to seal the victory and a technical foul was issued to Skyes. Vandersloot hit the foul shot to put Chicago up 88-85 but the biggest moment came with 1.5 seconds when Evans, who scored a career high 24-points, supposedly fouled Canada at the 3-point line, sending her to the foul line for three shots. Canada was perfect and tied it up at 88.

The Sky then inbounded the ball with the crowd on their feet in anticipation of a great finish to start the season, but the contest went into overtime.

In overtime, the teams were at the same pace after an entire game of the pendulum swinging, and with 2:05 left the Sparks led 92-91.

Unfortunately for the Sky, they were routinely turning the ball over and were scrambling to get back onto the defensive end which ended up hurting them.

WIth 50.4 seconds left, Ogwumike scored her 19th point in what turned out to be the biggest shot of the game. It came in the paint and put the Sparks ahead 94-91. After a couple free throws by Canada the deal was sealed to what was certainly a classic.

In the end, the Sparks came out victorious, 98-91.

Even with the loss, there were some notable accomplishments for the Sky, such as Parker passing Shannon Johnson for ninth all-time in assists. Parker also became the second WNBA player ever to reach 6,000 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,400 assists in a career. Tamika Catchings is the other player with 7,380 points, 3,315 rebounds and 1,488 assists.

Afterwards, Chicago head coach James Wade called the technical he was issued “BS,” but admitted to needing to do a better job at substitutions given how thin the roster is at the moment.

Furthermore, he did speak highly of Meesseman’s performance (game-high eight rebounds and 12 points), but also spoke of the need for her to find her place on the team.

“Emma has to get comfortable and we have to continue to find ways to make her comfortable on the floor,” he said. “I want her to be aggressive because we know she will make good decisions.”

The Sky play the New York Liberty next Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at Wintrust.

The Sparks hit the road on Sunday, playing the Indiana Fever at 3 p.m. ET from Gainbridge Fieldhouse.