Finally, the Los Angeles Sparks have come back to the WNBA Finals. After finishing with the No. 2 overall seed in the postseason and dispatching the Chicago Sky in four games in their semifinal series, the Sparks have reached the Finals for the first time since 2003.
Here is Los Angeles’ path to this year’s Finals.
The Sparks were a subplot heading into their opening game, as their opponent was the Seattle Storm, and that meant the debut of Breanna Stewart. Candace Parker (season-high 34 points) and company quickly took back the spotlight, however, dismantling the young Storm by 30 points to start the season off with a win.
Down eight to the Liberty with just 1:20 remaining, the Sparks appeared to be headed for their first loss of the season. Then Kristi Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike led an incredible comeback and the Sparks tied the game with 21.5 seconds to go. Five minutes of overtime later, and the Sparks walked away with a 79-72 victory and a 3-0
June 11: Nneka’s Perfect Night Against Dallas
The Sparks dominated the Wings down in Dallas in early June, leaving with a 97-73 victory, but the bigger story was Nneka Ogwumike’s night. The future MVP went a perfect 12-for-12 from the floor and 7-for-7 from the free throw line on the way to 32 points. The performance set the record for the most shots made in a WNBA game without a miss. Ogwumike finally missed a shot three days later, finishing with an all-time record 23 consecutive makes across three games.
June 21 & 24: Split Home-and-Home Showdowns with Lynx
On a Tuesday afternoon in late June, the Sparks and Lynx made history by playing the first professional sports game between two undefeated teams with 10 or more wins. Unfortunately for the Sparks, they lost this one in the final seconds, as Renee Montgomery hit a triple in the corner to give the Lynx a 72-69 victory. With the loss, the Sparks’
record fell to 11-1. As it turned out, however, it would be a long time until they lost again. In fact, they handed the Lynx an 18-point loss in the rematch three days later.
The Sparks’ loss to the Lynx truly turned out to be just a minor setback, as they immediately reeled off another nine-game winning streak. The ninth of those came in Connecticut against the Sun, and it was a historic victory. Jantel Lavender’s career-high-tying 25 points helped the Sparks to their 20th victory of the season, boosting their record to 20-1, which tied the Houston Comets for the best start in WNBA history.
July 22: First Team To Clinch A Playoff Spot
Although they fell two straight times after matching the Comets’ 20-1 start, the Sparks still became the first team to clinch a playoff spot during the 2016 season. L.A. reached the postseason for the 16th time in 20 seasons and finished with the second-most wins (26) in franchise history. While the Lynx passed the Sparks in the race for the No. 1 overall seed, the Sparks settled for No. 2 and the second double-bye to the semifinals.
October 4: Defeat Chicago Sky 3-1 In Semifinal Series
After a bye through the first two rounds, the Sparks finally began their 2016 postseason run in the semifinals against the Sky. The first two games at home were easy work, as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Game 3 went Chicago’s way, but that was as far as their comeback attempt would go. Los Angeles put the Sky away in Game 4 behind 29 points from Candace Parker, advancing to their first Finals since 2003.
How The Sparks Were Built
While Candace Parker has been with the team since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, no one else has been on the team for more than five years. And contrary to how most teams are built in the WNBA, the Sparks have just three of their own draft picks on the roster; they’re good ones in Parker, Nneka Ogwumike (No. 1 pick, 2012) and Jantel Lavender. But the rest of the team was acquired either by trade or free agency.
The Kristi Toliver trade in particular was a key moment in the Sparks becoming the team they are today. All they gave up was a second-round pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, and since the deal, Toliver has become one of the premier outside shooters in the league and a key cog in the Sparks’ explosive offense. The Sparks have also gone overseas to find talent, with five players, most notably Ana Dabovic, being internationals.
Alana Beard: Signed as free agent (February 2012)
Evgeniia Belyakova: Signed as free agent (March 2016)
Ana Dabovic: Signed as free agent (February 2015)
Essence Carson: Signed as free agent (March 2016)
Jelena Dubljevic: Signed as free agent (February 2016)
Chelsea Gray: Acquired in trade with Connecticut along with Nos. 15 and 23 picks in 2016 WNBA Draft and Connecticut’s first-round pick in 2017 WNBA Draft in exchange for the rights to Jonquel Jones and No. 17 pick in 2016 WNBA Draft.
Sandrine Gruda: Signed as free agent (August 2016)
Jantel Lavender: Selected with fifth overall pick in 2011 WNBA Draft (April 2011)
Nneka Ogwumike: Selected with first overall pick in 2012 WNBA Draft (April 2012)
Candace Parker: Selected with first overall pick in 2008 WNBA Draft (April 2008)
Kristi Toliver: Acquired in trade with Chicago in exchange for second-round pick in 2011 WNBA Draft
Ann Wauters: Signed as free agent (April 2016)