The season has been far from easy for the Sparks, who have had to overcome injuries, overseas commitments and league suspensions. But for a pair of their players, the weekend offered a break from the grind, and a chance to play some carefree basketball.
Two of their brightest stars were sent to Las Vegas for Saturday’s WNBA All-Star game, and neither disappointed. Point guard Chelsea Gray had 10 assists, eight points and five rebounds while leading TeamWilson to a 129-126 victory over Team Delle Donne. Forward-center Nneka Ogwumike led the losing squad with 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting from the field.
For the two teammates, matching up against each other was something they’re looking forward to putting in the rearview mirror.
“It sucked,” Ogwumike said with a smile, when asked about playing opposite Gray. “I don’t want to. It’s just that simple. I don’t want to do it again.”
The game started with a bang, as both teams came out firing with a barrage of highlights. Team Delle Donne’s Brittney Griner threw down two impressive dunks in the opening minutes, while Gray dazzled with a pair of no-look passes that brought the crowd to its feet.
“I just wanted to have fun with it,” said Gray, who finished one assist shy of the All-Star game record. “I enjoy passing the rock, so that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Team Wilson scored 77 first-half points to set a record. As is the custom at the midseason exhibition, defense was largely absent.
“All-Star game is all about kind of doing the little things: screening, rebounding, finishing your shots,” Ogwumike deadpanned after tying the record she already held for most field goals in an All-Star game.
While the two Sparks players had impressive performances, the show was stolen by Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler, who became the first undrafted player to win All-Star MVP honors. Wheeler made her first six three-pointers en route to a game-high 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
During the trophy presentation, the fifth-year pro thanked her late mother in an emotional speech that had all the players smiling and wiping their eyes.
“It was so heartfelt, so genuine,” Gray said of Wheeler’s powerful words. “I’m happy it was her. It happened to a great person.”
While Gray and Wheeler led Team Wilson to a commanding 23-point lead in the second quarter, Ogwumike and Team Delle Donne caught fire in the second half, bringing the game down to the wire. Both teams buckled down in the fourth quarter, and a tiny bit of defense was spotted.
“We knew it was gonna be competitive,” Gray said. “We just went on a little run there, and then they went on their run. I’m glad we ended up winning, though.”
The Sparks (11-8), who had center Chiney Ogwumike and coach Derek Fisher in attendance, have four days off before hosting the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday.