Candace Parker looked like vintage CP3. That was more than enough for the Los Angeles Sparks Wednesday, as they beat the Indiana Fever 86-75. The Sparks built a double-digit lead early and held on late as the Fever made a spirited fourth-quarter charge against the L.A. backups.
The game began on a bit of a low note as the Sparks were without the services of rookie point guard Te’a Cooper, who had an inconclusive coronavirus test and has to stay in isolation until she produces two negative tests. Cooper missed a game last week for a non-COVID illness.
Perhaps due to that, or because of the slow starts the Sparks have had thus far, Derek Fisher changed the starting lineup, replacing Riquna Williams with Sydney Wiese. Wiese started 16 games last year, and L.A. went 11-5 in those contests, so Wiese was ready for the moment.
The team came out with energy that has been missing from some previous games; more importantly, the Sparks were able to establish their pace, speeding up the Fever and forcing Indiana into seven first-quarter turnovers.
The source of that energy was primarily Parker, who got going early for L.A and didn’t take her foot off the gas throughout. She had everything working for her, starting with her post-up game, which also allowed her to facilitate out of the paint. She ran the floor hard in transition to get early seals against the Fever frontcourt and demanded the ball when she did. Parker was also a terror on defense, exemplified by when she emphatically stuffed 6’7 Teaira McCowan.
Parker ended the game with her third consecutive double-double, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds in only three quarters, as the Sparks had built a 17-point lead heading into the final period. Parker’s energy was contagious, and her team-high +22 effectively told the story of the game.
The standout Parker performance was accompanied by Chelsea Gray’s best game of the season. Gray set up shop in the post to start, overpowering Indiana’s rookie point guard Julie Allemand, and that gave Gray confidence in her offense that has been missing in the first four games. Gray shot 7-of-11 from the field for 16 points, the first time this year that she has shot at least 50 percent from the field. She also finished +22 in her 25 minutes.
The Sparks were so in control that they didn’t need Nneka Ogwumike in the second half. Ogwumike suffered a minor hamstring injury during the first half and the team sat her after 13 minutes out of an abundance of caution.
Ogwumike’s absence left extra time for Marie Gülich, who made her Sparks debut. She was the first big off the bench, supplanting Reshanda Gray and Kristine Anigwe, and instantly was a presence on the defensive end. Gülich, who sat the first four games with an ankle injury, was L.A.’s second-leading rebounder on the night, set hard screens, and had a little more mobility than the team’s other backup bigs.
This is the first of six games in 11 days for the Sparks as they play every other day until Aug. 15. They needed a win to start this stretch off on the right foot.