The Los Angeles Sparks closed out the first half of the season against the Minnesota Lynx in their final game at the Los Angeles Convention Center, falling 86-61. Lynx forward and 2021 Olympian Napheesa Collier led the game with 27 points and seven rebounds. Sparks guards Brittney Sykes and Erica Wheeler had 14 apiece, while center Lauren Cox had a career-high eight rebounds in a career-high 23 minutes.
Los Angeles (2001, 2002, 2016) and Minnesota (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017) share seven WNBA titles and one of the most storied rivalries in league history. Sparks Assistant Coach Seimone Augustus won four titles with the Lynx and played for the Sparks during the 2020 Bubble Season. She retired in May 2021, immediately became a coach, and is remembered as one of the best players in the history of professional basketball.
A history and rivalry defined by intense, physical basketball and hard-nosed defense, Sunday was no different, as the two sides exchanged technicals, flagrants, and played inspired, demanding basketball.
Sparks center Amanda Zahui B. was honored pre-game as the winner of the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of May. Zahui B. has regularly given back to her community throughout her WNBA career. When asked about the accomplishment, Zahui B. said she prefers to fly under the radar when giving back. The star makes an impact, and expects nothing in return.
The Sparks went on a 24-14 run from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the third, cutting a 16-point deficit to six at 43-37 with 8:30 remaining in the quarter. Sparks forward Brittney Sykes also knocked down a falling-away jumper at the first half buzzer and two Euro step-layups to keep Los Angeles in the game. Sykes ended up with 10 points, her tenth time in double-figures this season.
Despite the run, Minnesota gained control of the game, and never let it go. Collier had 15 second-half points to go along with a team high seven boards. The Lynx held the Sparks to just 30 second half points on 36.7% shooting. The short-handed Sparks stayed the course, and still kept the Lynx at bay for chunks of the game. The Sparks were again missing Nneka Ogwumike (left knee), Chiney Ogwumike (right knee), Kristi Toliver (eye), Maria Vadeeva (overseas), and Jasmine Walker (right knee). Those five players missed 73 out of 95 possible appearances through the first 19 games.
It was an unprecedented start to the 2021 season between the injuries and the team being uprooted from their home at Staples Center. Despite everything, Los Angeles heads into the Olympic Break optimistic with the expected return of the Ogwumike sisters, Kristi Toliver and Maria Vadeeva, the continued development of young players in Te’a Cooper, Lauren Cox, and Arella Guirantes, and the strong first-half play of Erica Wheeler, Brittney Sykes and Amanda Zahui B.
The team now pauses for the Olympic Break and returns to action on Aug. 15 at Staples Center against the Indiana Fever at 6 p.m. PT.
“I think overall we’ve just started to develop the grit that it takes to win at the highest level.” Sparks Head Coach Derek Fisher said. “I think every player that’s here has it, or they wouldn’t be here, but there’s a team level of grit that we have to develop and keep working on and I think we started scratching the surface on that.”