Candace Parker tipped the rebound to herself, took one dribble and unleashed a football pass that traveled 70 feet into Nneka Ogwumike’s waiting hands.
Ogwumike, no defender in sight, rose up for an easy layin. Parker stood at the opposite foul line, her right hand raised in the air. Ogwumike pointed to her, returning the recognition.
The scoreboard showed 2 minutes 12 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. It also showed a 16-point Sparks lead. The Minnesota Lynx had teased at a comeback, but the faint chance of that was now completely dashed in an eventual 92-75 Sparks victory in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at the Galen Center on Friday night.
The Sparks lead the series 2-1 and can win the WNBA championship with a victory at Staples Center on Sunday. Parker finished with a game-high 24 points. Ogwumike scored 21. Essence Carson shot four for four from three-point range and finished with 16 points.
“I’m glad that we responded the way that we did after our showing up in Minnesota in Game 2,” Sparks Coach Brian Angler said. “I have a lot of respect for Minnesota, we know that they’re going to come really at us on Sunday. So we’ll have to be at our best to be competitive.”
The Sparks, coming off a 19-point loss Tuesday at Minneapolis, played at a breakneck pace from the opening tip Friday and never slowed down.
It took Parker fewer than five minutes to tie her Game 2 total of six points, and she finished the first quarter with 10. Ogwumike, who mostly operates in and around the paint, hit two early threes-pointers on back-to-back possessions. Chelsea Gray muscled a rebound away from 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles, and then converted a three-point play.
When the Sparks’ first-quarter highlights were added up, they equaled a 32-17 lead and a firm grip on the game. “I feel like the first quarter was the gut punch,” Ogwumike said. “That first quarter, to me, really was the one-two.”
There was more of the same in the second quarter, at least at first. With 7:37 left in the first half, the Lynx had just six rebounds and had committed seven turnovers. With about 41/2 minutes left, Parker and Ogwumike had a combined 29 points while the Lynx had 26.
Then the Sparks started settling for long jump shots and the Lynx settled into the game. Maya Moore stole two consecutive inbounds passes to earn easy fastbreak points. Fowles, who had five blocks in the first half, locked down the paint.
And the Sparks led only 48-40 at the break, their near-perfect start nearly erased.
But the Lynx never got any closer than that as the Sparks’ rhythm never waned. Parker’s long pass to Ogwumike sealed the lopsided win.
Parker smacked the floor and beckoned Ogwumike toward her. The crowd noise elevated, and Parker wrapped Ogwumike in a hug at the foul line. The Sparks’ bench players bounced onto the floor to join them.
An even bigger celebration may await Sunday.
“I’m expecting it to be a bloodbath,” Ogwumike said. “So we have to be ready for that.”
Follow Jesse Dougherty on Twitter @dougherty_jesse