LOS ANGELES — Too little. Too late.
The Sparks made a furious comeback in the fourth quarter erasing a 20-point deficit to five points but did not have enough time to overcome the Minnesota Lynx’s hot shooting, falling 84-77 on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.
Sparks All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike’s three-pointer with 1:05 to go, made it 81-75 late in the fourth quarter. After a double technical foul, Ogwumike made two free throws to pull within five points.
“At the end, I’m always going to respect the call. I had just said that it had been happening the whole game so it escalated to a point where I got hit in the face and I don’t want to have to deal with that,” Ogwumike explained.
However, that was as close as the Sparks would get. Meanwhile, Ogwumike finished with a game-high 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“You can’t pick up any magical player to come in and do some things right now, so you have to run with the troops that you have,” said Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams after the Sparks lost their second consecutive game since the team agreed to a “contract divorce” with center Liz Cambage. “I really thought they fought hard trying to make plays and make things happen, they tried to show that, especially in the last four or five minutes of the game.”
Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams said there’s no “magical player” you can pick up right now in the last two weeks of the season. However, @CoachFredW is encouraged by how the Sparks “fought hard” when trying to overcome a 20-point deficit in the 4th quarter. #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/Thi7psZBEv
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) August 1, 2022
The Sparks fell to 12-17 and the Lynx improved to 12-19. However, the Sparks still control their destiny in the eighth and final playoff spot, with seven games remaining in the regular season.
The Lynx were up by 16 points midway through the second quarter and led 52-43 at halftime, powered by draining 20 of 29 field goals in the first half, shooting 69%. The Lynx finished the game shooting 54.4% from the field.
In comparison, the Sparks only shot 36.1% from the field, making 30 of 86 shot attempts.
Before the game, the Sparks honored Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who is retiring from the WNBA after 15 seasons.
Fowles accepted pregame flowers and showed her gratitude by letting her presence be known early and often. The 6-foot-6 center and two-time WNBA champion scored eight points in the first four minutes of the game. Fowles finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes. She made 8 of 9 shot attempts, shooting a game-high 88.9% from the field.
Meanwhile, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said over the season, her team has learned to manage their emotions when it comes to Fowles’ final season.
“It’s now a little more customary. All this ‘For Syl’ stuff can be draining on the others and it was in the beginning,” Reeve said. “We’ve gotten to a place where we know and players will say it, if I think I’m a little too tired to do something or if I’m a little, we’ve said that, when you feel like that, I want you to think of Syl.
“Syl is sprinting to the finish line and we need to do the same thing with her. We’re running with her to the finish line. It’s not her de ella trying to do this by herself. I think those emotions have been managed pretty well.”
Cheryl Reeve on helping the Minnesota Lynx manage all of the emotions that come with Sylvia Fowles’ last season in the WNBA. Fowles is often honored by her opponents of her and Reeve said that she was a lot to manage at the beginning of the season. #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/58qtclb6mt
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) July 31, 2022
“Sylvia Fowles is just a legend inside the paint,” Williams said when asked about the 2017 WNBA MVP in a pregame interview.
However, it was Lynx point guard Moriah Jefferson’s 16 points in the first half, courtesy of 7 of 9 shooting from the field that gave the road team an unexpected spark. Jefferson finished with a team-high 22 points and four assists. She shot 9 of 14 from the field.
Lynx guard Kayla McBride had 15 points and was 7 of 7 from the free throw line.
The Sparks trailed 26-22 at the end of the first quarter and were led early by forward Katie Lou Samuelson and guard Jordin Canada, who each scored five points in the first ten minutes of action.
Nneka Ogwumike’s one word answer to my question about what kicked in to make sure the Sparks didn’t lose by 20 points to the Lynx. The Sparks pulled within 5 points before ultimately losing 84-77. @nnekaogwumike @BrittBundlez scored 13 of her 15 points in the 4th Q. #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/fJrchgLqFp
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) August 1, 2022
Ogwumike said one player, in particular, deserves credit for sparking the comeback.
“Slim,” said Ogwumike, when asked what kicked in when the Sparks were down 20 points with 6:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Brittney “Slim” Sykes scored 13 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter and is looking forward to maintaining that same energy and effort over the final seven games of the regular season.
“I got tired of beating myself up. Point blank, simple,” Sykes said. “I wouldn’t call it a slump and I’m not using COVID as an excuse because I feel fine but if we’re just realistic, coming back from COVID, an abrupt stop, trying to get back in the flow with your team , I think I kind of got in my head a little bit instead of just staying where I was before I got it.
“But I just knew in that fourth quarter, we still had a chance and (Sparks assistant coach Seimone Augustus) is my witness. When they subbed me out, (with 8:49 left in the fourth quarter), when I got back in (with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter), I looked over and said let me figure it out and (Augustus) gave me a chance and I couldn’t take that chance in vain.”
Sykes has vowed to remain aggressive from typoff during the past two weeks of the regular season.
“They need me and I need them. We’re all connected at this point with energy, so I can’t be a vampire and I’ll own that. Today it took me to the fourth quarter to get out of myself so, my team has my word, I can’t do that anymore,” Sykes continued.
Samuelson and Chennedy Carter each scored ten points.
“(Carter), she comes in there and she gives that energy,” Ogwumike added. “She gives that push that we need. Also, I think the way she plays forces us to be a little bit quicker. It forces us to make quicker decisions and to think about how we can score when she’s out there.
“Having her out there really helps us understand how we can score in transition and when she brings that energy on offense. It also ignites our defense.”
Meanwhile, Williams said he has considered starting Carter and is “getting close” to doing that. However, I have highlighted Carter’s energy off the bench as something that also helps a lot and would need to be replaced by someone else.
The Sparks were down 69-55 heading into the third quarter and down by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter before making their final push.
Kristi Toliver, who started in the backcourt with Sykes, scored three points in eight minutes in the first half. Toliver, who has had a lingering calf injury all season, did not start play in the second half.
“I’ll find out more from the trainer (about Toliver’s injury) and make the decision after that, what her minutes for us would be for us going forward,” Williams shared. “I have to talk to the trainer to see if she can even travel or what the deal is.
“Toliver is a veteran, she’s trying. I know that she has some aches and pains and bruises and she’s doing the best she can on that floor for us to start out the game. I like starting her because I don’t want her to get stiff not starting her and then she’s got to warm up again.”
The Sparks will begin a four-game cross-country road trip with back-to-back games at the New York Liberty on Tuesday and Wednesday.