LOS ANGELES – In the first half of Tuesday’s Game 2 loss, Sparks forward Candace Parker was held to zero points and zero rebounds. It was the first time in her 10-year WNBA career that she had been shut out for an entire half.
“I didn’t have any rebounds, didn’t have any steals I don’t think. Like there’s other things I can do besides score,” she said following the 70-68 loss.
“It was just inactivity on my part. I know I can’t play like I did in the first half and expect us to be in a game. It’s not even me scoring; it’s just my activity.”
Parker’s activity level in Friday’s Game 3 was a completely different story, as she did a little of bit of everything to help lift the Sparks to a 75-64 win and put her team on the precipice of winning back-to-back titles – a feat that hasn’t been done in the WNBA in 15 years.
Parker stuffed the stat sheet against the Lynx in Game 3, as she finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a Finals-record five steals and three blocks. She posted a game-high plus-minus of plus-18 in her 35 minutes on the court.
She was a distributor, a finisher, a thief and a goalkeeper all at the same time, showing off a skillset that is uniquely hers in this league.
“I’ve actually been saying this all year because I think as good as she’s been, and she’s been great this year in spurts, but anytime she’s engaged whether it’s offensively or defensively, she’s the best player in the world,” said teammate Alana Beard. “She can definitely fill up a stat sheet and not many people within this game can do that.”
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 30, 2017
Parker didn’t have her best night offensively; she shot just 4-13 from the field, including a bucket in the closing seconds once the outcome had already been determined. But she didn’t allow her lack of scoring take her out of the game. Instead she used her entire arsenal of talents to dominate the game without scoring. She admits that wasn’t always the case earlier in her career.
“For me, if I’m not having a good shooting game, in years past that would have affected my overall [performance] and the other parts of my game,” she said. “And my teammates have done a good job of just pushing me to stay with it.”
Beard, who has been teammates with Parker since 2012, has seen both sides from Parker and credits her maturing as a player over the years for the type of performance she was able to put forward on Friday.
“Absolutely, that’s her growth,” said Beard. “I’ve been here with her for five or six seasons and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen that part when she’s not scoring and she felt like she can’t do anything else.
“But she can be a great defender. She is a great defender when she wants to be. But I attribute that to [Sparks coach] Brian [Agler]. He’s come in and he’s developed that culture. He’s made us buy in to playing defense and getting us to understand that playing defense is going to win you games, and everyone’s bought into that. And we’re pretty good when everyone’s on the same page defensively.”
The Sparks defense was on full display on Friday as they held the Lynx to just eight points in the opening quarter and 64 points for the game. Parker led all players with her five steals and three blocks and used her defense to help fuel the Sparks’ transition attack. Los Angeles also won the battle of the boards (34-27) for the first time in the series.
After the Sparks built a 13-point lead, the Lynx made their run to get back into the game, closing the lead to a single point two times in the fourth quarter, but never taking the lead as the Sparks led wire-to-wire.
“Those runs are expected, but I was proud with how we persisted in our schemes,” said Beard. “Maya [Moore] came out in the third quarter and she was scoring from all over the place, and we stayed persistent in what we wanted to do on the defensive end. We got stops when we had to get stops, we got 50-50 balls when we needed to get 50-50 balls.”
“I think it was defensive stops,” added Parker. “We played with pace but we played with composure. And that’s the balance. At the end of the game when you’re up you kind of want to walk the ball up the court but what’s working for us is we’ve got to get in our sets. We’ve got to get movement. I think in previous games we’ve made the mistake of walking the ball up and not really running sets and having someone hold the ball until there’s 10 seconds left on the shot clock. We can’t play like that.”
Parker pointed to a specific play late in the fourth quarter that epitomized the Sparks’ effort on Friday night.
“I think the play of the game was Alana Beard when Nneka got hit, Sylvia had the ball and Alana took it from Syl and she was on the floor, and we called time-out and got that possession and then came down and Chelsea hit a three,” said Parker. “I think that was the play, and those are the type of plays we have to make. If they would have got the rebound, then it would have been a four-point game, and that’s a five-point swing basically.”
That sequence put the Sparks back up by nine points with 3:06 remaining in the fourth quarter and gave Parker her fifth assist of the game.
“That one three-pointer in the fourth quarter, Alana set one heck of a screen and it was a beautiful pass from Candace,” said Gray, who finished with 14 points and a game-high seven assists. “When my teammates make me look good, I have to knock it down.”
Parker is the only player in WNBA history to put together a five-by-five game: finishing with at least five in all five major statistical categories – points, rebounds assists, steals and blocks. That game came in her rookie season in a double-overtime loss to Indiana as she finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, five steals and six blocks. On Friday, Parker finished two blocks shy of doing it a second time.
“I think that’s kind of like a superstar type of player moment,” said Ogwumike of Parker’s bounce-back performance from the Game 2 loss. “We support her and she acknowledges when she knows she can do better, and she found it in herself and we just roll with it. We try our best to bring it out in each other, but Candace playing like that makes everybody else better. It makes everybody else want to work harder.”
And it put the Sparks within one win of successfully defending their WNBA title.