LOS ANGELES-Every good team has that one player who is going to do the dirty work but who is not going to be looking for any fanfare. They just show up and do what they’re asked to do. When you have a team loaded with proven scorers like Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, there’s not a whole lot that can be be done from the offensive end.
Jantel Lavender always knows what needs to be done. Rebounding, scoring, knocking people over, setting screens, Lavender is accustomed to making sure everyone else is taken care of. Then when she feels the need to do something extra in the scoring department, she’ll light you up the way ornaments adorn a Christmas tree.
That is when she is in the mood. Unfortunately for the Chicago Sky, Lavender was in that kind of mood Friday night at Staples Center. Game 2 of the WNBA’s semifinals matchup between the Sky and the Los Angeles Sparks turned out to be Lavender’s own coming out party of sorts.
Lavender, the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year, took a backseat to Parker and Ogwumike in Game 1 when the duo lit up Chicago for a combined 57 points and 19 rebounds. It was Lavender’s party in the second game of this series, and the Sky can cry if they want to.
“Jantel, she’s down to do whatever,” Ogwumike said. “She’ll set a screen, run, rebound, box out, anything. She’s that frontcourt push that really helps us continue with the flow of our game. When she comes in, we’re able to also integrate our big lineup, which really adds to the dimension of our team.”
While Parker (20 points) and Ogwumike (18 points) saw a dip in their scoring attack from Game 1, Lavender took up the slack in Game 2, connecting on 10 of 11 shots from the field for a 20-point evening to help the Sparks cruise to a 99-84 win.
Sparks owner Magic Johnson, Olympic darling Allyson Felix and former Los Angeles Lakers great Derek Fisher received their own personal invite to the festivity as they sat courtside and got a closeup view of Lavender’s hot shooting night.
Lavender, for her part, kept it all in perspective.
“Any basketball player can do it,” said Lavender. “I think that it’s great to be able to stay focus when you come off the bench. You don’t start the game, so obviously you warm up after you cool down. So just being in tuned to the game is just what you have learn and to do as a player; when your number is called you got to be ready.”
One more win and the Lavender and the Sparks will find themselves playing for the WNBA championship.
“We just don’t want to relax,” Lavender said. “We’re excited for the opportunity. We’re not just going to let it drift away. We know what’s at stake. So we’re going to play our hardest and not ease up, play like we did last season and make sure we get that win.”
Statistically, Lavender had the best season of her career last year. In 2015, Lavender scored just over 14 points and grabbed eight boards a game. This season, those numbers dipped to 9.6 points and a shade under four rebounds per game. The biggest difference for Lavender was the improvement of her shooting touch from the field.
A year ago, Lavender shot 52 percent from the field. That went up slightly to 53 percent this season. Shooting has never been a problem for Lavender, who played 14 minutes less per game during the regular season than the previous year.
“I just come in and play my role,” Lavender said. “When I have open shots I take them. They were just falling tonight. I’ve always been able to shoot; I just think I’ve been put in a great position this year. Last year was great, too. I just think tonight was a great night.”