LOS ANGELES — When it was time to step up on the day after her 32nd birthday, Sparks all-star forward Nneka Ogwumike scored 10 of her game-high 22 points in the third quarter, to lead the Los Angeles Sparks to an 84-74 win at home against the New York Liberty.
With playoff positioning on the line, LA hosted NY on Sunday afternoon. Both teams came into the game with 8-11 records, with the Liberty in 8th and the Sparks 9th in the WNBA standings.
Afterward, the roles were reversed. The Sparks improved to 9-11 and the Liberty dropped to 8-12, giving the Sparks control of the league’s eighth and final playoff spot with six weeks to go before the end of the regular season.
With Sparks guard Brittney Sykes out due to health and safety protocols, Sparks guard Lexie Brown was inserted into the starting lineup and given the green light to shoot open three-pointers. Brown finished with eight points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds while playing a team-high 38 out of a possible 40 minutes.
“I think know she’s seeing minutes increase, some games starting, some games coming off the bench and helping us. Her outside three-point shooting helps us a great deal to stretch the defense a little bit,” said Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams. “Her role is coming in and right now she’s getting starter minutes, even if she’s coming off the bench, she’s getting those type of minutes.
“I think she’s worked hard and increased her value for us as a defensive player also and has shown great growth with what we’re trying to do.”
Sparks reserve forward Chiney Ogwumike scored a quick eight points in the first quarter and finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, which was her second double-double this season.
LA led New York 25 to 21 heading into the second quarter.
However, the Liberty pulled ahead 43-37 with 2:07 left in the second quarter after a 12-0 run powered by Liberty center Han Xu, Liberty guard Marine Johannes and Liberty forward Natasha Howard who hit back to back to back threes.
The Sparks trailed the Liberty 43-40 at halftime. The Sparks opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run to retake the lead 49-45 early in the third quarter. A 25-14 run put them up 65-57 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Sparks center Liz Cambage paced LA with eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-9 Cambage also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists.
Meanwhile, Williams said New York Liberty All-Star Sabrina Ionescu is a great, triple-threat player, that Sparks wanted to contain by keeping her in front of them and not letting her turn the corners and shoot corner jump shots or drive towards the basket.
The Sparks held Ionescu scoreless in the first quarter. However, she scored eight points in the second quarter and nearly finished with a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
“Lots of times when you think you have her trapped, she’s good at pivoting and finding somebody on the bounce pass,” Williams explained when asked to access Ionescu’s game. “Our game plan with her is to make her work on the defensive end and offensively just try to have a player ready to rotate over when she does get the basketball but you can’t let her turn the corner and get shots… she’s really one of those players that’s really good at catch and shoot.”
Meanwhile, after playing seven minutes in the first half Sparks guard Kristi Toliver was ruled out for the rest of the game with a calf injury.
Sparks guard Chennedy Carter did not play against the Liberty due to a left knee injury.
The Sparks will host the Phoenix Mercury on Monday, July 4 at 4 p.m. at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.