Sparks Silence Storm in Final Minutes

By Mirin Fader

Even when the Sparks are off, they still find a way to turn it on when it matters most.

Tied with the Seattle Storm at 65 with 4.5 seconds to go in the game, the ball came to Nneka Ogwumike, and she showed why she’s no longer regarded as a rookie.

Her buzzer-beater layup was timely, giving the Sparks a 67-65 home win in a game that for the most part, the Sparks struggled to hit their shots.

“It didn’t look very pretty on the offensive end until the last shot,” Sparks Head Coach Carol Ross said. “We didn’t come out and play like we’ve been practicing. We had to overcome ourselves and hang with Seattle, and with a team effort, we found a way to win.”

Shooting just 34 percent from the field by halftime, the Sparks’ (5-1) offensive woes continued in the third quarter, where they hit just 2 of 13 shots. Their lack of offensive rhythm was because the undersized Storm (without Lauren Jackson) pushed the bigger Sparks out of the paint and onto the perimeter, where they struggled to connect. The Sparks became casual with the ball, committing 14 turnovers.

Yet it wasn’t just the Sparks that were off. The Storm (1-4) had 16 turnovers while shooting 34 percent from the field. Neither team reached double digits in the game’s opening eight minutes until Toliver made a breakaway layup near the end of the period. The Sparks only trailed by two at the break (34-32).

When the Sparks were down by nine in the third quarter after a three by Sue Bird, it was Toliver who came through for her team in her favorite time of the game: the fourth quarter.

Her and-1 driving layup brought the Sparks within one (60-59) with 2:18 remaining.

Ogwumike, who had uncharacteristic minimal touches offensively, made a reverse layup with 49 seconds to go to extend the Sparks lead to three (63-60).

But Seattle, who lost to the Sparks twice this season, didn’t go away. Veteran guard Katie Smith hit her fifth three of the game with 29 seconds to even things up at 63.

Toliver responded with a layup to put the Sparks up by two (65-63) and STAPLES Center was reinvigorated, sensing their team could pull off the comeback.

Camille Little tied the score at 65 with 5.5 seconds left before Ogwumike ended the game with her shot.

Though the Sparks (now second in the Western Conference) will take this win, it is more sour than sweet because it resembles their previous game where they needed a buzzer-beater by Toliver to beat the winless last place Shock in a turnover-frenzy and unsatisfactory game.

Toliver had 23 points and 7 assists, Candace Parker had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Ogwumike added 10 points. Reserves Marissa Coleman and Ebony Hoffman hit critical threes during the Sparks’ fourth quarter push.

With this victory, the Sparks clinched the tie-breaker from Seattle in the Western Conference should the two teams end the regular season with the tie.

Smith led the Storm with 19 points and Bird added 12 points and 6 assists.

The Sparks will look for their second win this season against the Phoenix Mercury at home on Friday at 8:00 p.m.