This last game of the season signifies how the Los Angeles Sparks have been all year long.
Sparks end the season with a win and a 17-23 record after they clawed, scratched, punched, kicked, and bit their way back from a 19-point deficit to defeat the Seattle Storm. Los Angeles won in a nailbiter, 91-89.
The first quarter is where the trouble began with the Sparks. After a 7-3 start by L.A., Jewell Loyd went off and spearheaded a 16-0 Storm run. It would be an uphill climb from here on out as the Storm led after the first, 30-17.
The second quarter was better for Los Angeles as they did outscore the Storm by four points in the period. But once again, Seattle held a double-digit lead so a two-point advantage didn’t do much damage to the deficit. Kia Nurse was making three-pointers for the Storm as she helped keep the Storm ahead by halftime, 53-44.
The Sparks started to make a furious rally as they got the deficit down to four. However, Nneka Ogwumike fouled Kia Nurse on a three-pointer and that ballooned the lead back to 7 by the end of 3, 78-71.
Sami Whitcomb made a three to put the Storm up, 87-78, with 6:18 left in regulation. Then the Los Angeles defense really turned it up in the fourth. The line-up of Layshia Clarendon, Zia Cooke, Azura Stevens, Dearica Hamby, and Jasmine Thomas wreaked havoc all over the floor on both ends. The rally started with a Jasmine Thomas three. Then Stevens and Cooke would follow up with buckets. Finally, Layshia Clarendon would get a steal and finish the possession with a lay-up that would give the Sparks a 90-89 lead. Later on, Jasmine Thomas would split her foul shots. Then in the final possession, Ezi Magbegor got free for a midrange jumper but it fell short. The Sparks stole a win in their final game of the season with a 13-2 run. Seattle did not score a field goal after Whitcomb’s three.
Seattle led, 40-21, in the second quarter. Earlier in the season, the Storm came back from 21 down to win the game. On Sunday, the Sparks came back from 19 down to win. What a way for L.A. to finish the season.
The Storm were hot from three all game; they did finish 12 for 22 (.545) from behind the arc. The Sparks were only 5 for 18 (.278) but they did have that one timely three from Thomas during that final rally. And once again, we know all about turnovers; Seattle had 20 compared to the Sparks’ 12.
Nneka Ogwumike made her return on the final game of the season. Even though she sat out the fourth quarter due to foul trouble, she still led the team with 22 points. Jordin Canada, Layshia Clarendon, and Zia Cooke each had 14 points (Cooke tied her season-best from Opening Night). On the other side, Jewell Loyd scored 28 points but only 7 after halftime. Kia Nurse haunted the Sparks with 18 points while Ezi Magbegor had a line of 16-8-7.
Throughout all the adversity, the Sparks finished 17-23 with 18 different starting line-ups. Coach Miller even said that they were down to 6 players by the fourth quarter and still came away with a win. As I said before (and coach Miller also said this), this game encapsulated their season.
“Gritty,” answered head coach Curt Miller after I asked him to describe this team this season in one word. “That’s the word we used a lot this year. It wasn’t always pretty. We had to be gritty. It was a lot of different line-ups. A lot of different people, unfortunately, on that (injury report) every game but they were gritty, nonetheless. Put themselves in a position to make a run to the playoffs. Came up short but we have built momentum that we desperately wanted to do in Year One. This build is not gonna be a short build; it’s gonna take some time and we’re excited about the future.”
With the season over, the Sparks will concentrate on the offseason as well as the upcoming draft lottery in November. Even though they didn’t make the postseason this year, the future does look bright for the Sparks as injuries and illnesses really prevented this team from making a true run to the playoffs.
The Sparks improved their winning percentage from last year (.361) to this year (.425). And if we thought the 2023 Sparks was gritty, they potentially could be described as something more dangerous in 2024 should they stay healthy.