In a fourth quarter that had only a combined 21 points scored, Nneka Ogwumike and the Sparks held on to defeat the conference-leading Las Vegas Aces 76-68 Thursday night at Staples Center.
Ogwumike, who was named WNBA player of the month for July earlier in the day, led the Sparks with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Veteran Sparks forward Candace Parker, playing for the first time since June 18, scored 16 points.
“I feel like it was kind of those gritty wins you need a handful of times throughout the season,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said as his team won for the fifth time in its last six games.
The Sparks (12-8) took early advantage of two quick fouls on Aces forward Liz Cambage and led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter. The Aces (14-7) responded by outscoring the Sparks 25-16 in the second quarter to tie the score at 40 at halftime. Sparks guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt went down in the final seconds before the half after a hard screen but returned to the game in the second half.
“He just said it’s a zero to zero ball game,” Nneka Ogwumike said of Fisher’s halftime message. “We had to come out and throw the first punch. They kind of did that [in the third quarter], but we responded in a way that kind of allowed us to control the tempo of the game later on.”
Parker had 13 of her 16 points in the first half after returning from a hamstring injury.
She was perfect in three three-point attempts and added seven rebounds.
“It felt great to be back out there with my teammates,” Parker said. “It’s not something that I take for granted being back out there on the floor. I’ve done a lot of rehab to get back to this point, but I feel confident and healthy.”
Chelsea Gray contributed 16 points and 10 assists, and included a key fade-away basket with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter. Sydney Wiese added nine points for the Sparks.
The Sparks had nine available players for the first time since July 12. Chiney Ogwumike was ruled out prior to the game after undergoing a tooth extraction. She fractured her tooth in the Sparks last game against the Atlanta Dream.
Coming off the bench, Maria Vadeeva, Kalani Brown and Alexis Jones combined for 16 points in the win.
“We need all of our players, while we’re still working our way into full roster,” Fisher said. “We need people to be able to come in and contribute. I think the end [of] the third [quarter] is what got us enough momentum.”
With the win the Sparks took a 2-1 series lead over the Aces with one game remaining in the season series. On Sunday, the Sparks will face the Seattle Storm at 2 p.m. at Staples Center.