Chelsea Gray makes clutch shots to lead Sparks past Sky
A 20-6 deficit less than eight minutes in isn’t exactly how the Sparks drew up their fifth straight victory. Neither was a 16-point deficit in the second quarter, or a combined 47 fouls and 48 turnovers.
Yet when the dust of a thrilling but sloppy Sunday afternoon game against the Sky settled, the Sparks had an 84-81 victory and their eighth win in nine games.
“They came out and they punched us,” said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who had eight points and five assists. “They punched us first.”
The Sparks had an answer, as they have had so frequently during their current run. They began to chip away at the lead in the second quarter, and a floater from All-Star Nneka Ogwumike with 3.5 seconds remaining capped a 9-0 run that put the Sparks within five points headed into halftime.
“Obviously, not a good start,” said Ogwumike, who had her 11th double-double of the year with 17 points and 13 rebounds. “Not even a good half. But for us to be able to regroup, make our run, get some stops and convert on those stops, it was good.”
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Sparks finally held a lead. On their first offensive possession of the final frame, second-year center Maria Vadeeva finished in traffic while drawing the foul, and her free throw gave Los Angeles a 62-61 lead. Vadeeva, who played just 11 minutes and 25 seconds due to a crowded frontcourt rotation, made the most of her time scoring 12 points and five rebounds on five-for-six shooting.
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Her clutch bucket started what would be a thrilling fourth quarter. The teams alternated leads seven times, with neither squad able to gain any separation. Despite the impressive comeback, it looked like the Sparks would fall short when Allie Quigley (20 points) splashed in a deep three to give the Sky a 79-75 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Enter Sparks closer, All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray. Gray answered with a three of her own with 1:25 remaining. Following a Cheyenne Parker bucket, Gray went to work again, hitting a pull-up midrange jumper to cut the lead to one.
The Sparks defense, which forced 25 turnovers on the night, buckled down and caused a shot-clock violation. With a chance to take the lead, Gray called her own number once more. Taking multiple Sky defenders off the dribble, Gray got to the rim and earned a pair of free throws. She calmly made both, giving Los Angeles an 82-81 lead.
“The play was kind of designed just to have the ball in my hands to make decisions,” said Gray, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “It all depends on what the coach calls, and who’s feeling it that night.”
Following a defensive stop and an Ogwumike transition layup, the Sparks had a three-point lead, but the Sky weren’t done yet. Quigley got off a game-tying attempt at the buzzer that rattled around the rim before popping out.
The Sparks (15-8) will now head on the road for the first time since July 23.
“You get comfortable at home,” said coach Derek Fisher. “I think we kind of reached our limit of being at home. It’s time to take this show on the road, and get a little bit of that edge back, that us-against-the-world mentality.”
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