Gray’s 3-point barrage proved too much for Indiana to handle
Before the start of the season, I asked Chelsea Gray what she wanted to work on and improve within her game. She said, “Just learning new ways to lead. I’m with a veteran team already, but being able to have another voice. Just picking my spots offensively and being able to think the game a little bit more and knowing angles and things like that, going down to little percentage points.”
Gray was already an efficient offensive player in 2018. She shot 51.3% on 2-point jumpers, 39.2% on 3-pointers, and 83.5% on free throws. Her shooting percentages from the field were even better in 2017. Clearly, this is a player who already knows how to pick her spots – any marginal improvement would vault Gray from All-Star into all-WNBA consideration.
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After hearing that response, it seemed like the easiest way for Gray to improve her game by “percentage points” would be by trading some long 2s for 3-pointers. So I asked if her response meant she would be taking more threes.
Gray was adamant: “No, it does not mean that.”
Luckily, for one night, it appears that Gray forgot her preseason promise. And if that version of Chelsea Gray appears more frequently for the Sparks, good luck to anyone trying to defend her.
Against Indiana Thursday, Gray made 7-of-9 threes, including five in the third quarter en route to 20 points in the period. To say it was a record-setting performance would be underselling the storm she unleashed on Indiana.
The Sparks had difficulty attacking the basket against the Fever; over the course of the game, they only took 16 shots at the rim, per PBPstats.com. As a result, they collectively settled for more contested, ill-advised jumpers. Forty of those came in the midrange, including 22 from 14 feet or further from the basket, where the tea, shot 4-of-22. Gray herself was 1-of-7 from long midrange.
But when she took a step behind the arc, Gray was on fire. Take a look.
On some of these plays, Indiana is inexplicably going under on screens, allowing Gray a clean look at the basket for her high-arching shot. But when Gray gets going, she just starts pulling up from distance, no matter what kind of defense is in front of her. Candice Dupree gets right in Gray’s face, but it makes no difference.
It’s hard to overstate how much Los Angeles needed Gray’s outburst in the third quarter. The Sparks outscored the Fever 33-20 to turn a nine-point halftime deficit into a lead they would not relinquish. Los Angeles needed a win to maintain its place in the playoff standings, and the team especially needed a road win after going all of August without one.
Gray played the entire third quarter to put up 20 points, but she also stayed on the court for the entirety of the fourth quarter to secure the win. She is well-regarded around the league for her clutch performance, but she took a hold of the game much earlier against Indiana when the time and score demanded it.
Gray’s long-distance shooting is generally a good barometer for how well the Sparks perform. When she makes three or more 3s in a game, her team is 7-1 this season. When she makes two or fewer 3s, the Sparks are 12-10. Considering Gray shoots 41% from beyond the arc, increasing her volume of 3-pointers should be beneficial for L.A.’s overall success.
Throughout her career, Gray has used her size and strength to create space for herself inside the paint; her free-throw line jumper has been her calling card. But adding a few more 3-pointers to her diet may be just the ticket to improving her efficiency and making the Sparks a more formidable opponent.
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