The Sparks were one Candace Parker jump shot away from forcing overtime — and possibly winning Game 1 of their playoff series against the Minnesota Lynx.
But Parker's last-second attempt was off the mark, and the Sparks now find themselves on the brink of elimination as they return to Los Angeles for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Parker and company were much improved during the second half of the season, going 6-2 over their final eight games at home. But they won't be playing at Staples Center when they face the Lynx on Sunday, because the Emmy Awards are being held at L.A. Live. Instead, they'll head to Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike insisted to reporters that playing at a different arena doesn't mean the team loses its home-court advantage.
"It's not neutral," Ogwumike said. "It's still L.A., and we've played there before."
Arena logistics aside, the main challenge for the Sparks will be slowing down Lynx forward Maya Moore, who put up a playoff career-high 33 points to go with five rebounds and four steals in Minnesota's Game 1 victory. She and guard Seimone Augustus combined to score 50 of the team's 67 points. Earlier in the week, Ogwumike predicted that the key to the Sparks' success would be how they responded to Minnesota's offensive attack.
"Our defense is really what's going to hold our team together," she said.
The Sparks will also need to see more from their best player, Parker, who accumulated 16 points, nine rebounds, and four assists in Game 1, but turned the ball over four times and shot just five for 16. A better performance from Parker — and anything less than what Moore contributed on Friday — could be enough to send the series back to Minnesota.
Tipoff on Sunday is at noon, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.