LOS ANGELES – In each of the first three games of the 2017 WNBA Finals, the L.A. Sparks have had a different leading scorer.
In Game 1, it was Chelsea Gray who paced the team with a career-best 27 points, including the game-winning jumper with two seconds left to lift the Sparks to an 85-84 win.
Two days later, it was Candace Parker, who finished with a game-high 17 points in a low-scoring affair that saw the Sparks fall 70-64 to even the series at 1-1.
In Friday’s Game 3, it was Odyssey Sims and Nneka Ogwumike’s turn to lead the way. Both players finished with 16 points to push the Sparks to a 75-64 win and move within one victory of capturing the WNBA title for the second year in a row.
“I think it’s great not only for it being different people’s nights, but also when teams make adjustments other people kind of get going,” Ogwumike told WNBA.com at Saturday’s practice session. “You can’t stop everything but you can make things difficult. So when we find that they’re taking certain things away, then it can always be someone else’s time.”
On Friday, it was Nneka’s time right from the opening tip as she scored the first six points of the game for L.A. in the game’s first three minutes. However, after her fast start, Ogwumike would not score again until the second half.
“When you’re at this stage of the season, its not going to be an influx of points consistently,” said Ogwumike. “Teams are going to make runs. Maya didn’t score in the first half and then boom, boom, boom she had a lot of points in the second half. That’s just how it’s going to be just because of the level of play. We know each other inside and out so you’re going to come out trying to stop certain things and once you take certain things away then they might go to something else.”
That just meant it was time for other Sparks to lead the offense. For the remainder of the first quarter it was Sims (four points), Gray (five points in a 22 second span) and Lavender (four points off the bench) that helped push L.A. to a 17-8 lead at the end of the first period.
One player missing from that scoring action was Candace Parker, who didn’t score her first points of the game until three minutes into the second quarter.
“What’s special about us as a team is that if one players’ not playing well, they step up in other ways,” said Parker, who added seven rebounds, five steals and three blocks to her 13 points in Game 3. “We run a movement offense and the ball will find the right player.”
When it comes to finding the right player, it has been Gray and Parker that have led the way, averaging 5.7 and 5.0 assists per game, respectively, through the first three games of The Finals. The Sparks’ offense is at its best when players and the ball are constantly moving, with Gray and Parker finding cutters to the rim or open shooters on the perimeter as the defense is scrambling to keep up with the movement.
“That was our goal,” said Beard of L.A.’s offense in Game 3. “If you go back and look at Game 2 we were just stagnant, we were lazy, we weren’t moving, the ball wasn’t moving, the bodies weren’t moving and that was something we wanted to focus on a little more this game. So it felt good in spurts but we have to sharpen it up a lot more.”
During the regular season, the Sparks were led in scoring by their MVP frontline duo of Ogwumike (18.8 points per game) and Parker (16.9 ppg). They combined for 35.7 of L.A.’s 83.5 points per game, which equates to 42.8 percent of their offense.
In these Finals, Parker remains the Sparks second-leading scorer at 15.0 points per game, but Ogwumike ranks fourth at 12.7 points per game. Their combined 27.7 points now accounts for 34.5 percent of the Sparks’ offense as they have relied on a more balanced attack against a Minnesota defense that finished the season with league’s top-rated defense (94.1 points per 100 possessions allowed).
Heading into Game 4, Gray leads the Sparks in scoring at 18.7 points per game, tied with Minnesota’s Maya Moore for the top mark in the series. Gray, Sims, Parker and Ogwumike have all scored in double figures in each of the first three games, which makes the task of shutting the Sparks all the more difficult for Minnesota.
“The last two teams that are in the Finals have the most scoring threats so you just have to constantly be on your guard for everybody,” said Moore. “You have to be able to anticipate and guard different actions for different people so it is definitely a chess match and a great challenge for both teams.
“Both teams want to do their best at shutting down as many things as possible, knowing that you’re not going to be able to shut anybody out totally, but just wanting to make it as hard as possible for their go-to sets and players.”
As the Sparks look to close out the series on Sunday, they will need another balanced scoring effort against a Minnesota team playing with their backs against the wall. As the Lynx look to ramp up their defense to try to send The Finals back to Minnesota, which Spark will lead the team in scoring in Game 4?
“You never know when you’re moment is going to happen,” said Parker. “You have to be ready.”