The Los Angeles Sparks displayed a certain grittiness and group effort in their win against the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday evening.
Los Angeles defeated the Las Vegas Aces 76-68 behind a classic performance from Candace Parker and an overall effort from the Sparks as they pulled away in the fourth quarter to cement the win.
Parker made her return at Staples Center after being sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury that she sustained on July 9th. Parker’s performance against the Aces was reminiscent of the player that has become a staple and big name in the league in her 12-year career.
The last time that the Sparks played the Aces was in Los Angeles on June 27th. The Sparks were victorious in that game with Parker finishing with another classic stat line
Parker looked even more refreshed and healthy in game three of their season series with the Aces.
“It’s been a crazy season, but it was great to be back,” Parker said about being back into the fold.
It did not seem like Parker lost a pep in her step as she was able to fill the stat sheet. She finished with 16 points on 5-9 shooting from the field. Parker also had seven rebounds, three assists, three steals, and four blocks.
Ogwumike and Gray’s impact
Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray had been holding it down from leading the Sparks throughout their run in July and did not fail to produce.
Coming into this game, Ogwumike was named the Western Conference Player of the Month. Ogwumike averaged 21.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.43 blocks and spearheaded the Sparks to a 5-2 record in July. The expansion of her game to the three-point range has been an added benefit for the Sparks as she is shooting 41.7 percent from three.
She was on pace to hit 1,500 field goals against the Aces as she needed six to make the mark. Ogwumike achieved this milestone in her career and attributed it as something that is part of her game.
“I just think about how I want to impact my team in the moment, how great I can be, and how great I can make everybody else,” Ogwumike said about reaching this statistical feat.
Ogwumike’s performance in the third quarter, along with the bench, propelled the Sparks to close the quarter out on a good note. Ogwumike scored seven points in the third on 3-5 shooting from the field.
Ogwumike led the Sparks with 19 points on 8-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, and two steals.
Gray produced a double-double with 16 points, 10 assists, and three rebounds in the win. Gray had a balance in scoring and playmaking throughout the game as she had 10 points in the first half. Gray had seven of her assists in the second half.
Gray’s ability to maintain her composure and see the court in the way that she does allow for the Sparks to have success.
Bench players chipping in
Alongside, Ogwumike’s big third quarter, the bench unit came in to give the Sparks, even more, lift to close the quarter. In the third quarter alone, the bench scored eight points. It was imperative for the Sparks to have some life in the quarter in order to stay in the game and not allow the Aces to get comfortable.
“He [Fisher] said it’s a zero-zero ballgame. We had to come out and throw the first punch,” Ogwumike said about Fisher’s message at the half and the feeling of the third quarter.
“They kind of did that, but we responded in a way that kind of allowed us to control the tempo of the game later on.”
Kalani Brown and Alexis Jones contributed when it was needed for the Sparks down the stretch in the third quarter. This was the return of Jones, she had been sidelined for a while with a knee injury, and she looked ready for the moment.
Fisher went with Jones to close out the game down the stretch of the fourth quarter as well. Jones maintained a level head throughout the ebbs and flows of the game which allowed her to have some poise in the game.
“She just came in and was trying her best to contribute the best way that she can,” Ogwumike said about Jones’ performance.
“She didn’t give up. She was aggressive and looked like she was just happy to be playing.”
Brown has become more comfortable whenever she is needed. As things flow for Brown, she is not overthinking everything anymore.
The Sparks got Liz Cambage in foul trouble early, as that was not an issue for Brown. She was able to just be active and move around freely. Brown was even the beneficiary of some great passes by Gray.
Jones and Brown finished with seven points each off the bench. Jones added four rebounds, and two assists her line. Brown also had four rebounds and two blocks.
The Sparks wrap up their season series against the Aces in Las Vegas at the end of August so holding this 2-1 lead over them helps them as they control the tiebreaker. This win over a top-two team in the league gives the Sparks somewhat of an edge to prepare for the rest of the season.
Sparks ready for the second half of season
With the standings being so tight, it is important for the Sparks to present a fighting chance in each game moving forward.
As players come back at full strength, it will be a task to integrate and teach those who have not been on the floor. It may be a tough task, but in gritting out wins like against the Aces, there will be a full effort shown from everyone.
Players have to be ready for when their numbers are called at any moment to give the Sparks a lift. Having just 7-8 players for a bit in July, Fisher had to go with players who were willing to step up to help the team succeed.
Being at home will also help to properly integrate players and re-create chemistry for the team. It had been difficult for the Sparks to do so early in the season as they spent the majority of the time on the road. The Sparks will spend nine of their last 14 times at home.
The Sparks now sit 1.5 games back behind the Aces and Washington Mystics as they maintain the fourth place spot in the standings.
Los Angeles opened their four-game homestand with this win and will take on the defending champion, Seattle Storm, on Sunday at 2 p.m. PT.