With the WNBA regular season concluding this weekend, there are playoff implications in nearly every game remaining. The Los Angeles Sparks contest against the Washington Mystics on Thursday night was a prime example.
The Sparks entered the game with the league’s third seed, and wanted a win to help their hopes of earning a top-two seed. The Mystics entered the game as the first team out, in dire need of a win to keep their postseason dreams alive.
In the battle of the desperate, the team with more to lose came out on top, as the Mystics won 80-72. It kept the playoff hopes afloat for the defending champs, while making L.A.’s path to a double bye rather precarious.
The game was close throughout, as the teams went back and forth for the bulk of the first half. It wasn’t until the Sparks used a 9-0 run near the end of the second quarter that either team found separation. And that run — which gave L.A. a 45-36 lead — was rudely cut short when Myisha Hines-Allen, who finished with a game-high 30 points, banked home a buzzer-beating three-pointer from 31 feet out.
Washington rode that momentum into the third quarter, where they forced 9 turnovers and turned a six-point deficit into a five-point lead entering the final frame.
The Sparks didn’t roll over, as they fought hard in the fourth quarter and tied the game late. But the execution, momentum, bounces, and breaks went the Mystics way when it mattered most.
The key sequence came with just under 1:40 left in the game. Chelsea Gray had just made a tough shot to cut the deficit to a single point, and the Sparks defense forced a very difficult shot from Emma Meesseman. She missed, but Leilani Mitchell — the smallest player on the court — snaked through the Sparks defenders for the offensive rebound, and set up Hines-Allen for a three-pointer.
The Sparks never recovered.
They outrebounded Washington 41-29, with Candace Parker grabbing a staggering 17 boards. Parker was quick to defer to her teammates on offense, but still finished with 9 points, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, in yet another tremendous all-around game for the MVP candidate.
Gray finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds, and repeatedly came up with big plays when the Sparks needed them most.
And Nneka Ogwumike — still shaking the rust off following an injury — had 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block.
But the Sparks lead the league in three-point percentage at 40.8% and made only 25.0% of their shots from distance against the Mystics. And they’re second in the league in field goal percentage at 48.6% and shot a mere 41.4% on Thursday.
Some of that was an offense that wasn’t executing as well as it needed to, but much of it was just variance. Those shots will fall more often than not, and when they do, the Sparks will win more often than not.
But it does make the threat of a single-elimination game scary. The Sparks (15-6) can avoid having one of those by winning their season finale on Saturday against the Las Vegas Aces (16-4), and hoping the Aces lose their final game on Sunday against the Seattle Storm (17-3).