WNBA Playoffs semifinals: Sparks have the upper hand after taking game one vs. the Sky

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Photos: © Lee Michaelson

With the league’s MVP Nneka Ogwumike and the Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender scoring in double figures, Los Angeles took the first matchup of the five-game WNBA Playoffs semifinal series with Chicago, 95-75. The game took place at Long Beach State. The Sparks return to their home court at Staples Center on Friday for game two.

Candace Parker, a two-time MVP herself, led the Sparks with 30 points and nine rebounds. Ogwumike had a double-double of 27 points, a playoff career high, as well as 10 rebounds plus six assists. Lavender came off the bench for 12 points and four rebounds.

“Those two and Jantel shot really efficiently,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “Nneka and Candace were playing at a really high level, and you can see that they had good chemistry. They are both excellent passers and they found each other really well. Obviously Candace has great ball skills so she could do lots of things for us, especially when she handles the ball in the middle of the floor, she does more than score, she distributes and attacks the rim at a high level.”

Chicago had a balanced effort with four players scoring in double figures. Reserve Jamierra Faulkner led the Chicago with 13 points off the bench. Cappie Pondexter contributed 12 points while Tamera Young added 11 and Courtney Vandersloot scored 10.

The Sky was without star forward Elena Delle Donne who has missed all of the playoffs as she recovers from surgery on her right thumb. The absence of Delle Donne means that the Sky is missing her 21.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

The Sky only led in the first seconds as Pondexter was the first to score. The teams went back and forth in the first quarter. Chicago never held a lead after the 7:44 mark in the first quarter. The Sparks went into the break with a 17-point lead, 52-35. Los Angeles shot 52.9 percent in the first half, compared to a 41.7 percent mark from Chicago.

“I thought it was good that we weren’t sluggish, we actually played with energy, but we seemed anxious and were turning the ball over,” said Agler. “If you looked at us in the second quarter, you see us settle in and became more and more comfortable as the game went on.”

Los Angeles outpaced the Sky in points in the paint, rebounds and second-change points.

  • Points in the Paint: Sky 40 (20/39), Sparks 50 (25/38)
  • Biggest Lead: Sky 2, Sparks 23
  • 2nd Chance Points: Sky 17 (6/10), Sparks 18 (7/12)
  • Fast Break Points: Sky 8 (4/5), Sparks 6 (3/3)

With Elena Delle Donne out, coupled with playing on the road in the Los Angeles at the Staples Center on Friday, the Sky have an uphill battle in the semifinals.

“This is a five game series. Obviously we are not pleased with the results,” said Sky head coach Pokey Chatman. “Early on we were disrupted. We have to do a better job of attacking them, getting to the paint and the free-throw line.”

Pondexter is ready for the challenge of preparing for and competing in game two.

“There are adjustments that we need to make and mistakes that we need to eliminate going into game two…I’m actually excited to look at the game film, there’s a lot to review and learn from,” said Pondexter. “I want to see what adjustments we need to make. One thing I can guarantee is that we are coming back a stronger team in this second game.”

However, with home court advantage, the Sparks have the upper hand and with the MVP award under her belt, Ogwumike was happy with the win.

“Tonight’s win was a really big start in our playoff run. In the end it is not about myself. I certainly did not do it by myself,” said Oguwmike about winning the honor. “We know what we want to do and I’m sure everyone saw that tonight. And as of right now we are focused on going to practice tomorrow, to prepare for the next game.”

Parker had high praise for her teammate.

“It’s been an amazing journey to watch Nneka develop the way she has. She always plays with the same amount of passion, energy and selflessness since she got to LA. The team has always known of her potential and has recognized her talents, but it’s nice to see that the rest of the league recognizes that now.”


  • Candace Parker knocked down 11-of-15 shot attempts for 30 points, three-shy of tying her playoff career-best 33 points.
  • Los Angeles was able to double-up Chicago in the second quarter, outscoring the Sky 30-to-15 in the frame.
  • The Sky failed to knock down a three-pointer, finishing 0-2 for the game, the fewest Los Angeles has allowed all year.
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