You wouldn’t know it from the first 39 minutes and 56.3 seconds. But from the final 3.7 seconds of regulation, and the five-minute overtime period, it was abundantly clear which team is contending for a WNBA title, and which team is furiously hitting the “rebuild” button.
The Sparks flexed their star muscles early, outscoring the Dream 25-17 in the opening quarter, and taking a double-digit lead early in the second half. But Atlanta was undeterred, and came storming back, cutting into the deficit until the Dream finally took the lead more than halfway through the fourth quarter.
From there the teams went back and forth, trading leads over and over, until a steal and a layup gave the Dream a four-point lead with 1:11 remaining. Suddenly the Sparks were getting sloppy, and it looked like they were headed for a rather rough loss.
But Nneka Ogwumike drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to cut the Atlanta’s lead in half. On the other end of the court, Candace Parker capped off a sensational defensive game by blocking a shot out of bounds, and then recording a steal after the inbounds. Ogwumike again found herself at the free-throw line, again calmly sank two free throws, and suddenly the game was tied.
And that’s where the theatrics came in. Dream guard Courtney Williams — who has a flair for the dramatic, and tortured the Sparks in the playoffs a year ago while with the Connecticut Sun — handled the ball with the clock running down, and landed a wicked pull-up jumper to give Atlanta the lead with 3.7 seconds remaining.
But Williams left too much time on the clock for Parker, who was exceptional all game long. The two-time MVP caught the ensuing inbounds and was masterful in showing patience with so little time on the clock.
She knew exactly what she had to work with, and ended up getting all the way to the rim to lay the ball in as the buzzer rang.
The teams went to overtime, just as they did a year ago, and the Sparks quickly ran away with things, finally deciding to get rid of the Dream once and for all.
When the dust settled it was a 93-85 win, led by 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block from Parker, and 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal from point guard Chelsea Gray.
The Sparks improve to 9-3, tied for second in the league. They’ll hope to get Riquna Williams — who tweaked her knee in the second quarter of this game — back in time for Sunday’s contest against the Dallas Wings.