Chelsea Gray is clutch. After injuries to Candace Parker and Alana Beard, Gray has proved to be a go-to player in critical situations for the Sparks.
She spearheaded a fourth-quarter rally to help the Sparks (3-2) defeat the New York Liberty 78-73 on June 4. She finished the game with a season-high 29 points.
A few days later, against the Minnesota Lynx, Gray scored the last eight points for the Sparks, including a baseline jumper with eight seconds remaining to seal an 89-85 win.
“After the game, my mom texted me ‘Chelsea = clutch.’ A couple of my friends said Chelsea is like Kobe [Bryant],” Sparks guard Sydney Wiese said. “She has ice in her veins. She works for moments like that. Her competitiveness is one in a million.”
Sparks coach Derek Fisher is no stranger to game-winning shots. He made many in his NBA career. His most memorable shot came with 0.4 of a second left in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.
“It's great to be in those situations, and I’m glad Chelsea came through for us,” Fisher said. “Chelsea loves to compete, so she’s very comfortable in that setting in Minnesota. That’s a position that she will be in often.
“I think Chelsea is similar [to me]. I always thought about those situations really just being excited to be able to step forward and do something to help my team win.”
That wasn’t Gray’s first clutch basket against the Lynx. She shocked Lynx fans in Game 1 of the 2017 finals with a midrange pull-up jumper in the closing seconds for an 85-84 Sparks victory. During the season opener last season, she drove to the basket and flipped in a layup at the buzzer to beat the Lynx again.
Gray’s series of late-game heroics earned her the nickname “Point Gawd,” bestowed upon her by Parker.
“She didn’t spell it with a G-O-D, so I’m all right,” said Gray, an All-Star the last two seasons and All-WNBA second team in 2017. “She’s a legend, so when you have somebody like that calling you then you’re doing all right.”
Parker and Beard are nearing their returns to the lineup as both are listed as day to day.
Fisher described Parker’s progress this week as the “closest she been since she’s been out.” Parker participated in 90% of Wednesdays practice, including a full-court scrimmage.
“We’re just trying to be really smart and not get too far ahead of ourselves.” Fisher said. “I think most importantly it’s not how she looks when she’s out there, but 24 to 48 hours later how [does] she feel? Until we get to a point where there are no consequences at all for her being able to practice and do whatever we need to do, I think we need to be as conservative as possible.”
Parker has yet to make her regular-season debut for the Sparks after sustaining a hamstring injury May 11 during the preseason opener. Beard hasn’t played since the season opener against the Las Vegas Aces on May 26.