Nneka Ogwumike and Jewell Loyd dueled Saturday night at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles and despite Loyd’s career-high-matching eight threes (one shy of tying a WNBA record) and 37 points, Nneka’s 27 points, 14 rebounds and four assists pushed LA past .500 with a 92-85 win.
Loyd added six boards and six helpers, but Seattle fell to 0-4; with Minnesota’s win over Washington earlier Saturday night, the Storm are now the only winless team in the association.
Loyd made three treys in the fourth quarter, cutting it to 74-71 with a crossover before a contested make at 5:14 remaining, to 81-74 at 3:24 and to 86-79 at 2:10. But the three that really made the Sparks sweat came from rookie Jade Melbourne with 1:42 to go. Despite having the hot hand, Loyd showed faith in Melbourne, dishing it to her when she was wide-open on the left wing; the Aussie calmly cut it to 86-82.
Two Nneka free throws at 42 seconds made it 88-82, but the Storm still had hope.
Then came an interesting sequence. Sami Whitcomb missed a deep three that would have cut it to three and Nneka got the defensive rebound. But Nneka’s backcourt pass was intercepted by Melbourne, who then quickly made a layup and was fouled. The foul was called as on the floor, but, after review, it became a clear-path foul, so Melbourne was awarded two free throw attempts and Seattle got the ball afterward. Melbourne made 1-of-2 free throws and then Loyd missed a contested mid-range shot. Melbourne got the offensive rebound, but missed an open layup.
So the game slipped away from the Storm, but it was still a great effort by Melbourne, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Jordin Canada made two free throws to make it 90-83 and then Loyd missed a last-chance three at 10 seconds remaining. The Gold Mamba was 8-of-12 from downtown on the evening.
Nneka was 8-of-14 from the field and 11-of-11 at the free throw line. Layshia Clarendon added 16 points, six helpers and three steals to the winning cause. Chiney Ogwumike chipped in with 15 points, three assists and three swipes, while Canada was good for nine points, seven helpers and four steals. Lexie Brown wasn’t shy about shooting the night following her career-high-tying 26 points against the Mercury, attempting 10 triples. She made four and finished with 14 points.
The game was tied after one and after two, and the Sparks (3-2) opened the scoring in both the second and third — with threes. Brown did the honors in Q3 with a deep, wide-open trey that made it 42-39. Clarendon followed with a transition layup that made it 44-39. Reverse layups from the Ogwumike sisters (Chiney first at the 6:40 mark of the third, then Nneka at 6:18) were pretty and accounted for consecutive LA baskets, but a Loyd three in between kept things reasonable for the Storm, who trailed 50-47 after Nneka’s.
The 44-39 lead was massive compared to the rest of the game up to that point; LA didn’t lead by six until an 8-0 run that concluded with two Clarendon free throws at 56 seconds remaining in the third. That 8-0 run was preceded by a 5-0 individual run for Loyd that made it 57-55 Seattle. Chiney made a layup that tied it at 57, Brown followed with a three and then Clarendon went 3-of-4 at the stripe over two trips. The Sparks led 65-59 entering the final frame.
LA battled to keep it tied in the first and then opened the second with a Karlie Samuelson triple that put the team up 19-16. However, the momentum would not last long at all; Loyd answered right back with a trey of her own. Seattle went on to lead by four three times in the second. A 4-0 individual run by Ezi Magbegor led to the first instance at 23-19. Magbegor sandwiched two free throws and a transition layup around her own emphatic block of a Zia Cooke shot attempt. Loyd’s second three of the frame led to the second instance at 27-23; the Storm also led 29-25. A Brown right corner three cut it to 29-28. The remainder of the second was highlighted by a nice Melbourne floater that made it 33-30 Seattle and a Magbegor three that made it 37-35 Seattle. The score was tied at 39 at the break.
A 4-0 run made up of Mercedes Russell mid-range makes gave the Storm an early 7-4 lead. Kia Nurse later hit a three off Magbegor block, but that only gave Seattle a two-point lead at 10-8. The Storm seemed to have the better opening frame, but LA always had an answer. Canada made a nice pass to Dearica Hamby for a layup that tied it at 12 and Hamby made a driving layup to tie it at 14.
Magbegor was good for 14 points, nine boards and three blocks in defeat. She was 2-of-2 from distance.
LA won the turnover margin by nine and went 23-of-27 at the stripe to overcome Seattle’s 13-of-25 effort from beyond the arc. The Sparks won points in the paint 44-20.