LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks rode their sharpshooting to a 92-69 victory in the second round of the 2019 WNBA playoffs, eliminating the defending champions Seattle Storm. Three Sparks players sank at least three 3-pointers in the victory, tied for second-most in a postseason game in WNBA history.
Chelsea Gray led Los Angeles with 21 points and eight assists, while Natasha Howard posted a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Storm.
“It’s always been about the whole group, we stressed that from the beginning,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said on the team playing collectively. “A lot of our players, they reward each other and themselves. It’s not really about what they’re doing necessarily or what we’re doing for them. Everybody shows up early to try to get work in, so that when they get in the game, they’re ready to go. That’s something we’re going to need in this next series as well.”
Candace Parker had a hand in nearly every Sparks basket while on the court in the first quarter, assisting on two 3-pointers and adding her own putback and coast-to-coast layup. Seattle took an 18- 11 lead on a Howard 3-pointer after Parker checked out with just over three minutes remaining.
The lead would not last long, however, as the Sparks went on a quick 9-0 run, highlighted by two steals and transition baskets on consecutive Seattle possessions.
Maria Vadeeva emphatically set the tone for the second quarter with a block on Crystal Langhorne during the first possession of play. The Sparks’ defensive pressure, spearheaded by Alana Beard, held Seattle scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of the quarter as Los Angeles reeled off another 9-0 run.
“I think the tale of our team this season, whether it was because we were down numbers, certain people had to stand up, or because there’s just people out there that are taking advantage of their time,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. “We are a team with moments, we are a team of opportunities, we are a team that grinds, and I think that that was really reflected today.”
The Storm cut the deficit to four with just under a minute left in the quarter, but Gray responded with an electric 3-pointer to give the Sparks a 43-36 lead at halftime. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt locked down Jordin Canada with full-court pressure to start the second half, including a block at the basket that ignited the STAPLES Center crowd.
Seattle coach Dan Hughes talked about the Sparks defense, particularly the way they played the final two quarters.
“In the second half, the Sparks played some big defense,” Hughes said. “They played more aggressive. And we got on our heels for a little bit. But we fought back too at the end of the day as well. But the Sparks just came out in the second half with more energy and just that fight. So I give credit to the Sparks with what they did tonight.”
Howard, Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell picked up the offensive load for Canada, and the Storm cut the deficit to one on a Howard 3-pointer at the 3:11 mark of the third quarter. Seattle would get no closer, however, as the Sparks closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, capped by a Riquna Williams buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“I think it’s a momentum killer when you end the quarter [with a buzzer-beater] and Riquna having that at the end, it sucks the life out of the opponent,” Gray said. “I think those moments, we got to build on going into the next quarter and it creates momentum down the stretch. Even if you finish the half and you have that break, you’re still thinking about that last play and how you want to build on that and that’s what we stressed at halftime, too. We had a good play, things like that, we want to be able to build on that the next time we come out.”
Sydney Wiese and Ogwumike combined for a quick 10 points to extend the Sparks’ offensive explosion into the fourth quarter. Wiese drained back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by two consecutive jumpers from Ogwumike, to build a commanding 21-point lead that Los Angeles would not relinquish.
Up next: The Sparks will travel to Uncasville, Conn. on Tuesday, Sept. 17 to take on the second- seeded Connecticut Sun in Game 1 of the 2019 WNBA Semifinals at 6:30 p.m.