Sparks outshine Sun to close regular season

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Nneka Ogwumike
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Nneka Ogwumike /

The Sparks did it once again this weekend, jumping out to another 14-2 early lead. Los Angeles ripped off 12 straight points in the paint after the teams traded hoops to start the game, forcing Sun Head Coach Curt Miller to use a timeout.

Minnesota clinched the WNBA’s #1 seed with a Sunday win over Washington; the Sparks are locked into the #2 spot. The Sun will await their second round opponent as the #4 seed.

More from Sunday:

Appreciate the footwork

It was ‘MVP Night’ at Staples Center, and 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike put on a show for the home crowd. She tallied 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting to go with 5 assists and 5 steals.

Ogwumike looked poised as ever scoring several times over Jonquel Jones inside, including a bucket to put the Sparks up by 19 with less than 3:00 to play — a fitting way for the reigning MVP to ice things on MVP night. 

Matching big lineups

The Sparks and Sun are an interesting matchup. Both feature plenty of top end talent; both teams sent three players to the 2017 WNBA All-Star game. Each team also has the flexibility to play big or small lineups.

When Connecticut put Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck on the floor with Jones in the second quarter, Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler countered with a frontcourt trio of Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender.

Lavender pointed to continuity with LA’s big lineup. “Me, Candace and Nneka have been here the longest together. So we know each other’s tendencies well, we play off each other well, and [Coach Agler]’s not afraid to go to it because Nneka can guard 3s and Candace can as well.”

Lavender continued, also pointing out their ability to spread the floor on the other end. “When [Coach Agler] first got here, we played like that a lot where we had the big lineup. And we all can shoot the ball, so it’s easy to space it.”

Which brings us to…

LA’s driving and kicking

The Sun played close with the Sparks after falling into that 14-2 hole. But Los Angeles came away with stops and timely answers throughout, including some sequences in which the ball was really flying around the perimeter.

Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims combined for 26 points and 11 assists. LA’s starting guards and Parker were able to get into the lane to spark some of those drive-and-kick scoring opportunities for teammates.

Essence Carson was involved in a few of those sequences on the perimeter. Afterwards, she said, “That’s what we really want as a team — focus on moving the ball. Just looking to be fluid. And when that happens, we normally get a basket out of that.”

Carson and Alana Beard led the charge to make it tough for Sun All-Star PG Jasmine Thomas to do the same to them. Thomas shot 3-for-15 and turned it over 5 times. Courtney Williams (team-high 19 points) and Alex Bentley (8 points, 4 assists) shot the ball well and made plays out of the backcourt for Connecticut.

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