LONG BEACH, Calif. — The Los Angeles Sparks could not stave off elimination in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals, falling 78-56 to the Connecticut Sun at the Walter Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach. The Sun backcourt of Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams continued their strong player with 29 and 17 points, respectively, as Connecticut completed a three-game series sweep.
“Looking at the stats tonight and Courtney Williams has 13 rebounds, physicality is not always pushing, elbowing, brute physicality. How hard you cut is physicality, how forceful you communicate during defense, and that’s how you also send your message to your opponents,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said. “You have to give Connecticut a lot of credit for being able to sustain a level of play. There were moments in each game where we looked like we could compete and win, but they were just better over the course of 40 minutes each night and that’s why they’re advancing.”
Nneka Ogwumike recorded a team-high 17 points and six rebounds for Los Angeles in the losing effort. Candace Parker opened scoring with a layup that moved her to seventh all-time in WNBA playoff points, passing Deanna Nolan. Williams responded by scoring Connecticut’s first seven points to take control for the Sun. After the game, Nneka Ogwumike talked about the challenge of playing both Williams and Thomas at the same time.
“They’re both great players. I think for us, it’s being able to play team defense, it’s not really a one-on-one thing,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. “When you have two great guards out there, you have to learn how to contain both as a team, not just one-on-one.”
A Williams transition layup extended the lead to 11-4 at the 3:44 mark, but Los Angeles found energy of their own in Alana Beard to counter the Connecticut barrage. Beard nailed a 14-foot jumper, forced Thomas into a turnover, and converted a layup in the final three minutes of play to help the Sparks stay afloat.
Connecticut held a 14-11 edge to open the second quarter, but Nneka Ogwumike and Alexis Jones combined for a quick five points to retake the lead. It would not hold, however, as Thomas scored 11 points over the next four minutes to drive a 15-2 Connecticut run. Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray responded with a 10-point burst, scoring six and four points, respectively, to narrow the deficit, and a Chiney Ogwumike layup cut the Sun advantage to three with 1:36 remaining.
The Sparks would get no closer, though, as Connecticut extended the lead to 40-32 at the break. Connecticut used a 15-5 run to pull away from Los Angeles at the start of the second half. The Sparks showed signs of life with four minutes to play in the third quarter as Nneka Ogwumike made a driving layup, stole the ball and converted in transition on consecutive possessions.
“The story of the series was our defense,” Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller said. “A lot of side stories here and there, but ultimately if you drilled it down, I’m really proud of the maturation of a young team’s defense, and you can see what happens when a core group plays together for four years. This was our vision when we took over in ‘16, to build with a core group, and allow them the highs and lows. We circled this year on the calendar back in 2016 and it’s just amazing that that group has allowed the vision that we had all come together.”
Chiney Ogwumike joined her sister with a steal and two free throws, but the Sun responded by rattling off an
8-0 run that pushed the lead to 19. The deficit proved too much for Los Angeles to overcome throughout the remainder of the game. Head coach Derek Fisher dipped into his bench to close out the fourth quarter and received encouraging performances from his young players, highlighted by five points from Jones and four from rookie Kalani Brown.
“I think we can learn a lot from this season,” Sparks guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. “We had a lot of ups and downs. So when we have a full team together, we figured out a new system for everybody. We got new players, we got strong core. We got new players filling in, and a new coach, so we’re all learning a new system. We got one year under our belt so next year will be a lot better for us.”
Source: Los Angeles Sparks