With Saturday’s loss to the Las Vegas Aces, the Los Angeles Sparks gained an amount of certainty. But several lingering questions remain.
With the 84-70 defeat in the regular-season finale, the Sparks were cemented into the No. 3 seed in the WNBA playoffs. The dream of a double-bye and the extra rest that came with it is over. Los Angeles will play Thursday in the single-elimination second round.
But the Sparks had more to play for Saturday than just additional days off. They needed to prove to themselves they could beat the other elite teams in the WNBA.
Instead, the Sparks fell to 0-2 against the Aces and 0-4 against the two teams ahead of them in the standings. And L.A. finds itself in its first genuine losing streak – albeit just two games long – as it enters the postseason.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike led all scorers with 24 points and Candace Parker added 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. A’ja Wilson led the Aces with 19 points and Angel McCoughtry scored 18.
The raw numbers show it would have been a difficult game for the Sparks to win. They shot 37.5% from the floor while losing the rebounding battle 38-29 and allowing Vegas to shoot 52.5%. But L.A. was able to keep pace with the Aces early.
It turned when the Sparks made only two field goals in the final five minutes of the first quarter. The Aces grew their four-point edge entering the second into a double-digit advantage, and the lead hovered around there for much of the game.
Every time the Sparks made a push, Vegas answered. L.A. scores three baskets in the last two minutes of the first half? The Aces scored two of their own to limit the damage. Ogwumike makes a 3-pointer in the Sparks’ first possession of the second? The Aces had a 3 up their sleeve on the other end, too.
The Sparks got within four at the end of the third quarter. Brittney Sykes tipped in a lob from Riquna Williams, then Williams stole the ball and was fouled. She hit two free throws, and though Vegas responded with a Jackie Young layup, Parker hit a jumper with 1.4 seconds left in the third to make it a four-point game again.
Vegas still had an answer, specifically a 5-0 to start the fourth and prompt a timeout from Sparks coach Derek Fisher.
In the Sparks’ last-gasp efforts to make a comeback, Vegas’ Kayla McBride hit a dagger 3-pointer with 1:25 to play.