Sparks flame out the Seattle Storm, advance to semi-finals

Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray led all scorers with 21 points in the Sparks rout of the Seattle Storm to move on to the semi-finals. (Photo by Maria Noble via Twitter)

Los Angeles keeps their playoff hopes alive and will move on to play the Connecticut Sun. 

Los Angeles sent the Seattle Storm back up north after a 92-69 final in due part to the Sparks resilience and assertiveness to garner the win in front of a crowd of 9,081 fans in attendance. 

Chelsea Gray led the way with 21 points on 4-7 three-pointers, eight assists. As Gray made way, the rest of the team got it going and it was full steam ahead. 

Nneka Ogwumike followed up with 17 points, six rebounds, and two steals. Candace Parker and Riquna Williams both finished with 11 points. Parker had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 6 assists. Williams finished with 11 points on 3-7 three-pointers, four rebounds, and two steals.

The Sparks were able to frustrate the Storm in the game following a usual slow start in the first quarter. The Storm was able to take advantage of the game early in the first quarter.

Today’s slow start for the Sparks was more attributed to them not playing for a week so getting the rust off in the opening minutes was something that the Sparks needed to do.

The defense for the Sparks was lackadaisical to start but they managed to buckle down and capitalize on the offensive end of the floor. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt hit a three-pointer then Parker made a two to give the Sparks their first lead of the game. 

Natasha Howard, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Storm, went on a personal 8-0 run that was then countered by the Sparks own 9-0 run. Howard could not be stopped in the quarter as she had 12 points on 4-6 shots from the field. 

“I think we did a good job of being able to answer their runs,” Parker said. It was a back and forth battle with the Storm having an edge 23-22 at the end of the opening quarter. 

The tone of the second quarter was set defensively with a Maria Vadeeva block in the first possession of play. During the Sparks 9-0 run that was led by Gray scoring-wise, Alana Beard was initiating the Sparks defensive pressure over the course of three and a half minutes.

The second quarter got a bit dicey with the Sparks getting the Storm into the bonus. The fouls got the best of the Sparks which allowed for the Storm to stay in the game, cutting the Sparks lead down to four with under a minute to go in the quarter. The Sparks committed seven fouls in the quarter and the Storm was able to be 6-6 from the charity stripe. 

“We fouled and it’s to their credit. They took the ball to the basket tough,” Parker said. “We got to be a little bit more disciplined with fouling.”

The Storm was trying to cut the deficit in the third quarter with contributions from Howard, Jewell Loyd, and Mercedes Russell — Howard’s three-pointer made is a one-point Sparks lead with just over three minutes to go, but the Sparks countered with an attack one play at a time.

“Just possession, by possession not trying to get too ahead,” is what Sydney Wiese said was the message at the half. “They made that push in the third — we knew that [in] the playoffs, no one is going to give up.”

Once the Sparks shifted gears, it was no stopping their 10-2 run to close the quarter. Williams got off a buzzer-beater three to send the Sparks into the fourth quarter up by nine points. 

The Sparks were rolling to start the fourth quarter off the momentum that Williams ended the third with. That is what the Sparks wanted to build on in the final quarter. 

“It’s a momentum killer when you end the quarter [with a buzzer-beater] and Riquna having that at the end,” Gray said. “It sucks the life out of the opponent.” 

The Sparks disrupted the Storm’s offense which converted into their own transition offense. They held the Storm to 30.8 percent shooting from the field on 4-13 shots. The Sparks allowed the Storm to score just 11 points in the quarter. 

Wiese and Ogwumike extended the Sparks lead to over 20 points. Both combined for 10 straight points that propelled the Sparks forward. Wiese scored back to back threes amidst a 13-0 run to plow over the Storm. 

Los Angeles will have chartered travel to Connecticut for Game 1 of the semi-finals on Tuesday. It was announced by the league prior to the double-header that the winners of the second-round games would have chartered travel arranged. 

“It means a lot. I think it means we’re moving in the right direction and I hope it doesn’t stop there,” Ogwumike said. 

With the Sparks stressing rest throughout the season, this gives them an opportunity to regroup before Tuesday’s game. 

“We are fortunate to enough to now get into Connecticut tonight, as opposed to tomorrow, so hopefully that will help us as well,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher, who notched his first playoff win as a coach in the WNBA, said. 

Following the first two games of the series in Connecticut, the Sparks will play Game 3 on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. at the Long Beach State Pyramid to avoid conflict with the Emmy Awards that are taking place at the Microsoft Theater next door to Staples Center.

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