LOS ANGELES, CA-Los Angeles Sparks head coach Derek Fisher came out a winner in his team’s 2019 home debut at Staples Center. After absorbing a thumping defeat on the road to the Las Vegas Aces, the Sparks fiddled around with the Connecticut Sun for most of the game before putting the finishing touches on a 77-70 win Friday night before 12, 334 loud and screaming fans.
Without star forward Candace Parker out on the court (injury), Fisher and the Sparks were left to rely on the inside presence play of Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike. The two sisters combined to score 39 points and grabbed 22 rebounds between each other.
Chiney Ogwumike was extremely efficient in the paint, connecting on 7 of her 11 attempts from the field to score 20 points. She also recorded seven rebounds on the night. Nneka was the board wiper for the Sparks, coming down with 15 rebounds to go with her 19 points. It was the play of Nneka and Chiney late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the Sparks.
With the Sun hanging around closely with thoughts of pulling off a possible road win, Chiney Ogwumike pumped the brakes on that momentum when she made a putback layup and was fouled on the play to make it a three-point opportunity with 1:19 remaining in the final period. Nneka Ogwumike then officially shut down any hopes the Sun had of sneaking off with a victory when she converted a wide-opener 3-pointer with just over 40 seconds left on the game clock.
The Sparks’ home opener, which featured stretches of sloppy basketball and uneven play from both teams, had some meaning behind it for Chiney Ogwumike, who was once attached to the hip to the Sun. After starring at Stanford, Chiney Ogwumike was selected as the top overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft by Connecticut.
She wound up being the WNBA Rookie of the Year, the WNBA Comeback Player of the Year, and a two-time WNBA All-Star with Connecticut. So it was quite stunning that the Sun would trade Chiney to the Sparks in April. Whatever Connecticut’s rationale was, it seems like it is to the benefit of the Sparks.
Against her former team, Chiney Ogwumike played inspired, at least in the second half when both teams were trying to find their shooting groove. Converting field goal attempts was a challenge for both the Sun and the Sparks on this particular night. While they outscored Connecticut in three of the four quarters, the Sparks made only 38.9 percent of their shots from the field.
They were even worse from beyond the arc, making just 30 percent of their 3-pointers. The bailout on this night for the Sparks would be the play of their defense. The Sparks hounded the Sun on the defensive end into an overall 30 percent shooting performance from the field, despite Connecticut getting 16 points and 22 rebounds from Jonquel Jones.
Los Angeles forced Connecticut into 14 turnovers. Besides the Ogwumike sisters, the Sparks received an offensive boost from guard Chelsea Gray, who added 16 points, the only other Los Angeles player to score in double-figures.