Professional Basketball

Sparks, Aces Advance to Semifinals

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The Los Angeles Sparks and Las Vegas Aces won their single elimination Round 2 games on Sunday, earning them the right to face the #1 and #2 seeds in the WNBA Semifinals. Here is a rundown of the day’s action.

Los Angles Sparks forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt grabs a rebound during the Aug. 31 game against the Las Vegas Aces. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine

Los Angeles Sparks 92, Seattle Storm 69

The Los Angeles Sparks used their home court advantage along with 21 points and eight assists from guard Chelsea Gray to down the Seattle Storm 92-69 during Sunday’s Second Round playoff game in front of 9,081 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Both teams kept it even in the first quarter, but the Sparks gained separation when Chelsea Gray got hot on 4-for-7 shooting and scoring 11 points in the second quarter. At halftime, Los Angeles led 43-36.

The Storm chipped away at the Sparks lead in the third quarter, cutting it to a one-point deficit on a ten-foot hook shot by forward Natasha Howard with 6:33 remaining in the quarter. Los Angeles led 50-49 at that point.

The Sparks pushed the lead back up to six a minute later, but Howard’s three-pointer with 3:11 remaining pulled the Storm back to within one, 57-56. Los Angeles then went on a 21-3 run to put the game out of reach for Seattle.

“In the second half, the Sparks played some big defense. They played more aggressive. And we got on our heels for a little bit,” said Howard. “But we fought back too at the end of the day as well. But the Sparks just came out in the second half with more energy and just that fight. So I give credit to the Sparks with what they did tonight.”

When asked about what happened in the third quarter that led to the Sparks run, Seattle head coach Dan Hughes said, “I thought we ran out of gas a little bit. I think it’s a little bit of a testimony to their depth. I thought we played three pretty good quarters. I thought we really battled. A lot of things we were hoping to achieve, we were achieving. But they keep constant pressure on you and we lost a little of the attack nature that had really served us well in the three quarters.”

Gray led all scorers with 21, Nneka Ogwumike added 17 to also help pace Los Angeles, while Howard led the Storm with 20 points. Howard led all rebounders with 11 and Candace Parker led the Sparks in rebounding with 10.

“Before the coaches came in, we discussed a lot about how what we were doing was good. There were a few little things here and there that we needed to make sure we could take advantage of,” said Ogwumike. “I think we have seen the last few games, even outside of the playoffs, how aggressive [Storm guard] Jordin Canada has been playing. She got to us in the first half, and we wanted to make sure that we could cog up the paint in a transition a little bit more, and then offensively we had to move the ball, and move our bodies. That’s really it. That’s the name of the game for anybody we play against, because if the ball is still, then it does not suit us because of the types of players that we have.”

The Sparks have now advanced to the Semifinal round for a best-of-five series against the second seed Connecticut Sun, which starts at 5:30 p.m. CT tonight.

“We just have to quickly turn the page to a new opponent, in terms of how we want to prepare the things that we want to do offensively and defensively, but we have tried to stress to our team all season long that as opponents change, we don’t necessarily have to change who we are,” said Sparks head coach Derek Fisher. “We just need to be stronger and better in some of the things that we are already capable of doing… We know they are good at home, we know the crowd is going to be into it, but, we are going to have to lean on our defense.”

The Sparks won two of the three meetings with the Sun during the regular season. The final meeting between these two teams, in Los Angeles on Aug. 25, snapped a four-game winning streak for Connecticut, and knocked the Sun out of the top spot in the WNBA standings to one game behind the Washington Mystics.

Las Vegas Aces 93, Chicago Sky 92

Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby, named 2019 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year before Sunday’s game, drives for a layup against the Chicago Sky. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine

The Las Vegas Aces were the last second team that wouldn’t go away while hosting their second round game against the Chicago Sky. The 2019 WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year, Aces forward Dearica Hamby picked off a pass by Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot just a step inside the half court sideline and hit a long three-pointer with five seconds remaining to lift the Aces to a 93-92 win in front of 7,981 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Chicago’s Astou Ndour attempted a three-pointer from the corner as time expired, but was off the mark.

“I didn’t realize we had so much time on the clock,” Hamby told the Associated Press. “Had I missed it, I never would have been able to live with it. So glad we won.”

After the shot went in, Chicago head coach James Wade pointed to the sideline believing that Hamby stepped out of bounds.

“I felt like we deserved that game. Not to take anything from Las Vegas because they’re a great team, but I just felt like we deserved it,” said Wade. “We have to learn from it and stay together. This was an eventful season all the way till the end. We would’ve liked being in a situation where we could keep it going because I’ve felt like we had so much more basketball to play, but that wasn’t the case.”

The Sky jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter and looked like they would bury the home team. With Chicago leading by 12, Epiphanny Prince scored a driving layup with 1.9 seconds remaining, which cut the Sky lead to ten. Hamby then stole the inbounds pass and scored a layup as time expired. Chicago led 29-21 at the end of the first quarter.

Las Vegas continued to battle back during the second quarter, finally pulling ahead on a cutting layup by Hamby to make it 40-39 in favor of the Aces with 4:24 remaining in the first half. There were two ties in the remainder of the quarter, which had Chicago in front with a 51-45 lead.

 

Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley shoots over the outstretched arms of Las Vegas Aces guard Kayla McBride while center Liz Cambage looks on, during Sunday’s Round 2 playoff matchup. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine

Chicago built up a ten point third quarter lead, lost it almost as quickly as it was built when the Aces went on a 10-0 run. The Aces were again leading by a point on a tip layup by center Liz Cambage with 4:44 remaining in the third. The lead seesawed back and forth for the rest of the quarter which ended with a 25-foot running three-point shot by guard Kelsey Plum with 0.7 seconds remaining, giving the Aces a 76-75 lead going into the final frame.

Neither team could establish separation in the fourth quarter. Chicago managed to lead by as many as three early in the quarter, and Las Vegas held a five point lead midway through the quarter. Nonetheless, a Ndour three-pointer with 24.4 seconds gave the Sky a two point lead, which was followed by a Las Vegas turnover.

The Sky players were celebrating an apparent victory during the timeout. A two-point lead and the ball with just 14.6 seconds remaining left victory pretty much assured.

Enter Dearica Hamby, the WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year.

“I’m glad Hamby executed the play I drew up,” laughed Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer. “It reminded me of… those of you who are old enough to understand what I am about to say… ‘Bird stole the Ball! Bird stole the ball!’… same kind of play. It was like ‘Oh, no, no, don’t do that and then WHAM…Great shot!”

“It’s one of those things where it is basketball and it is intense basketball. Yeah there were ups and downs….I thought we were fortunate. I thought we played hard enough to win. But we didn’t play well enough to put the game away. If we had made our layups, if we didn’t turn the ball over at crucial times, I think we would have won this game by ten points. I give Chicago credit. They played very well. They made big shots. They played hard. But one team had to go home, and that’s unfortunate. But we’ll take it, and now it is on to the next round,” said Laimbeer.

The hurt was felt throughout the Chicago locker room.

“It’s just like any other time the season ends. The call may or may not have been valid. You with you could kind of get some verification on it. It hurts, this is a team that had a lot to give and more to give,” said Sky forward Diamond DeShields. “We have nothing but high hopes for the future and we’re just going to keep working towards the ultimate goal.”

Chicago’s Kahleah Copper said, “I think we followed the game plan that our coaches gave us. [A] great game plan. I think we executed, and we just came up short.”

Aces center Liz Cambage and the Sky’s Diamond DeShields each scored 23 points to lead all scorers. Cambage led all rebounders with 11, and Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot dished out a game-high 12 assists.

“It gave me March Madness vibes. It gave me those college postseason feels,” said Aces forward A’ja Wilson. “The biggest thing is you can tell everybody came together and really fed off the crowd and fed off one another and that’s the beauty of it all. When Dearica [Hamby] made that shot that was our x factor. I’m not surprised at all. Dearica pushed for this, she deserves this and that’s something I never really seen before and that’s crazy.”

The Aces set a postseason record with 42 rebounds during the game, which was their first playoff win as a franchise since they downed the Phoenix Mercury in 2011 as the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot became the first player with back-to-back double-digit assist games since the Los Angeles Sparks Nikki Teasley did it in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Aces face the top seeded Washington Mystics for Game 1 of the best-of-five WNBA Semifinal Round which begins tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT in Washington.

NOTE: Both WNBA Semifinals Games will be broadcast on ESPN2.

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