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Sparks need Nneka Ogwumike to get back into the offense in WNBA Finals’ Game 3

Nneka Ogwumike
The Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike brings the ball upcourt against the Lynx in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

Nneka Ogwumike doesn’t rush to watch the playback after games. 

That gave her a lot of time to think about the Sparks’ Game 2 loss before actually seeing it. She thought about the 19-point margin, the most the Sparks have lost by this season. She thought about the six shots she took, her fewest since June 28. She thought about being more involved on offense, which seldom needs to be said out loud. 

So when the Sparks sat down for a film session Wednesday afternoon, she saw the criticism coming. 

“That’s on me, and I know it is,” Ogwumike said Thursday. “Coach [Brian] Agler said to the team right then and there, if I take just six shots we’re probably not going to win.”

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Ogwumike, the WNBA’s most valuable player, shot 66.5% from the field during the regular season. That was the second-best percentage in league history and showed that feeding her the ball is arguably the most efficient strategy in women’s basketball. But she faded out of the Sparks’ offense Tuesday and will need to reenter it as the team hosts the Minnesota Lynx at the Galen Center on Friday night (6, ESPN2). 

The series is tied 1-1 and the Lynx — who have won the championship in every odd year since 2011 — looked well in control after narrowly dropping Game 1. 

“I think that we can do a better job, I can do a better job of trying to communicate that to the team during the course of the game,” Agler said of getting Ogwumike more involved. “Our team needs to recognize that as well. You can’t just choreograph everything, you know? But I also think she can be more assertive as well.”

Seven Sparks players logged 10 or more minutes in Game 2, and all of them took more shots than Ogwumike. Kristi Toliver, the Sparks’ sharp-shooting point guard, took more three-pointers (nine) than Ogwumike took shots. The Sparks, as a team, shot 32.9% from the field and largely went away from low-post scoring that’s bolstered their offense throughout the playoffs. 

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But Ogwumike did not attribute her lack of attempts to her teammates or the Sparks’ scheme. When she watched the replay of Game 2, she saw herself focusing too hard on running the offense and not recognizing what the Lynx were giving her. 

The Lynx defense, anchored by 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles, was focused on controlling the paint. The Sparks weren’t able to capitalize on the resulting open perimeter shots, making three of 20 from beyond the arc. 

That allowed the Lynx to keep Ogwumike and forward Candace Parker in check. Parker made three of her 12 shots and finished with six points. Ogwumike, while efficiently collecting a team-high 14 points, was a non-factor for chunks of the game and did not attack the interior as she’s accustomed to doing. 

“I don’t think it’s ever easy limiting Nneka,” Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said Thursday. “But again, you have to pick your poison. Maybe when they’re not making you pay for some of the choices we’ve made....”

The coach trailed off and recognized how everything stacked up for her team in Game 2. 

Reeve then smiled. It is not often that Ogwumike turns in a passive performance, and Reeve said she is not expecting it to happen two games in a row. 

“Nneka’s a very persistent player,” Reeve said. “It’s not really a matter of what the others do. I think it’s just when she puts her mind to it, and we’ll probably see that tomorrow.”

jesse.dougherty@latimes.com

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Twitter: @dougherty_jesse


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