The Los Angeles Sparks headed into Sunday’s game against the Dallas Wings with an opportunity to win and clinch the final playoff spot after the Washington Mystics lost to the Minnesota Lynx earlier in the day. After a battle in College Park Center, the Sparks fell just short, losing 87-84 to the Wings in the final moments. Te’a Cooper led all scorers with 24 points and six assists. Erica Wheeler added 22 points and seven assists. Nneka Ogwumike brought veteran leadership with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. The former MVP also made four 3-pointers but got zero free throw attempts.
“I think [Nneka’s] fortitude or mental and physical toughness is oftentimes what keeps us together,” Head Coach/General Manager Derek Fisher said. “Because of her ability to persevere through anything and everything, she still doesn’t get the credit and the respect that she deserves.”
Throughout the first half, the Sparks relied on the strong shooting and the dominant guard play of Te’a Cooper. She had 17 first-half points on 70% shooting from the field, and 50% shooting from
the 3-point line. As a team, the Sparks shot a blistering 47.1% from the field, and 50% from the 3-point line on nine first-half assists.
Sparks guards Wheeler and Cooper combined for 46 of the team’s total points. The Sparks executed one of their best offensive performances of the season shooting 50.8% from the field while making 13 three-pointers.
At the end of the third quarter, the Wings took the lead 68-58 while outscoring the Sparks 24-17 and shooting 52.1% from the field. Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale led the Wing’s third-quarter surge exchanging 3-pointers while extending their lead to as many as 13.
Los Angeles closed the deficit just before the last play of the game. Ogwumike and Wheeler led the comeback offensively and sparked a 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter. Wheeler knocked down one of the biggest shots of the game, a 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left to bring the Sparks to within three points. Ogwumike made four second half 3-pointers in the comeback effort as well.
“I just want to be that super vet for my teammates,” Ogwumike said. “Even with the stakes tonight, how I play will never change.”
After Allisha Gray missed two free throws, Wheelers potential game-tying 3-pointer rattled out.
The Sparks couldn’t ultimately overcome a slew of injuries that led to Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, No. 7 overall pick Jasmine Walker, and Maria Vadeeva missing over 70% of the season. In addition, the Sparks played their first 11 homes games at the Los Angeles Convention Center with limited fans. Displaced from their home, the Sparks went 4-7 at LACC before returning to the Staples Center for their final five home games where the team went 4-1.
Despite the adversity, the Sparks were in contention for the final playoff spot, led by their defense which finished ranked No. 3 in the WNBA in defensive rating. Brittney Sykes had a banner year on that end of the floor. Prior to the game, Pivot Analysis endorsed Sykes for Defensive Player of the Year.
With this loss, the Sparks finish the season 12-20 and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Sparks have made the playoffs a league-leading 20 times in their 25 years of existence.