Los Angeles, CA – DJ MaL-Ski was missing in the start of the final three game Sparks home stand before the playoffs. Also not suited was Nneka Ogwumike with load management issues. This would be the last thing the Sparks needed down the home stretch, where fighting for the fourth seed has become as tight as ever with the Chicago Sky sitting just a half game behind. With the two missing, the Sparks were seeking energy from other sources on and off the court. It took about a quarter or so as the Sparks needed to find their defensive poise and take control. After the Dream scored 24 points in the first, they only managed 36 more in the final three quarters as the Sparks edged out a 70-60 win that kept them a game ahead of the Sky for the fourth seed and a first round bye in the playoffs.
“A game like this tonight goes to show how deep we are,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “This was only really the fourth game where we practically had everyone here. Atlanta is a tough opponent since they are coming in free since they are out of a playoff hunt. We needed everything and then some to get the win.”
The absence of Nneka was noticeable all throughout the first half when the Sparks couldn’t find any way to score. Atlanta came through to grab a lead by as many as nine in the first half. Los Angeles turned up the tempo in the second quarter defensively only allowing 11 points. However, after grabbing the first lead of the game late in the frame, the Dream managed to hang around and take a one point lead heading into halftime.
A sloppy third quarter plagued both teams, but the Sparks finally settled in. All they needed was to find their footing offensively opening the floor with a handful of points in the paint that eventually saw their lead get into double digits. Atlanta in the final minute had Renee Montgomery and Elizabeth Williams score seven straight points that saw a 13 points Sparks lead somehow cut to six.
After the Sparks lead dwindled to just five, Chelsea Gray knocked a three from the top of the key that put the lead up to eight, and eventually put the game out of reach as the Dream offense couldn’t keep up towards the end.
Candace Parker scored a team high 21 points. Chiney and Gray combined for 32 total points.
Los Angeles can mathematically still grab the number three seed. It all depends if the Sky can beat the Las Vegas Aces on Friday, who currently hold that spot. However, right now for the Sparks is to just win and let fate take its course as they mentally need to prepare for next week as they have two games to go.
“People come in to LA with a lot of pride saying they beat LA and that means a lot,” Chiney said. “With two games to go we still have a lot at stake so it’s still very hard to let our guard down.”