The Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm played the game of the WNBA season Friday night, and after a back-and-forth fourth quarter, it seemed as though whoever had possession last would win.
The Storm’s final possession only lasted 0.8 seconds, but that was enough for Jewell Loyd to hit the game-winning 3-pointer as Seattle outlasted Los Angeles 90-89. There was a review to see if Loyd stepped on the sideline, but the shot stood, and the Sparks suffered their fifth defeat of the season, falling into a two-way tie for third in the WNBA standings when they would have been tied for first with a win.
Jewell Loyd wins it. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/DQDmXnUaCw— Ben Dull (@ben_dull) September 5, 2020
Loyd’s 3-pointer put a sour taste on what was overall an excellent effort by the Sparks. They went toe-to-toe with the no. 1 team in the league despite being without Nneka Ogwumike for the third straight game.
Candace Parker got things started early for the Sparks. She had 17 first-half points as the team took a five-point lead into halftime, and she tied a career-high with five 3-point makes. When her jumper is falling, it’s so difficult to cover Parker because she can get into the paint at will, and even more easily on hard closeouts. Her 25 points led the team and she still tied for a team-high with six assists.
The Storm got back in the game as their jumpers started falling, and they outrebounded L.A. on the offensive glass eight to three, giving them extra possessions. Breanna Stewart wasn’t shooting particularly well (she finished 7-of-21), but Loyd kept the team afloat with her 25 points. The Sparks and Storm were tied at 69 heading into the final period.
The ball didn’t find Parker as much as head coach Derek Fisher would have hoped in the fourth quarter, and he took responsibility postgame for not reorienting the offense in her direction, but the Sparks were carried by a team effort.
Seimone Augustus hit a couple of jumpers, Te’a Cooper found her way to the rim twice, and Parker and Chelsea Gray each converted layups. The team couldn’t get any jumpers to fall, but Brittney Sykes barreled her way into the lane and earned free throws on consecutive possessions in the final two minutes to give the Sparks their first lead of the fourth quarter.
Gray had a chance to put the Sparks up three with 20.8 seconds left, but she missed one free throw. Seattle came down and got Stewart an easy look in the paint to tie, and then L.A. once again put the ball in Gray’s hands, trusting her judgement in the clutch.
Gray looked like she was going to launch another one of her trademark late-game jumpers, and Sue Bird inched over from her assignment in the corner to try to double. Riquna Williams caught Bird looking away and cut to the basket, and Gray fed her right at the basket, forcing Seattle to foul with 0.8 seconds left.
Williams made the first free throw, and per Fisher postgame, did not consider missing the second since the Storm still had a timeout. She made the free throw, putting the Sparks in up two until Loyd’s final shot changed the outcome.
After the loss, Parker was frustrated by the team’s inability to win games against the elite competition in the league. The Sparks have five losses, all against the the other top five teams in the league, and only one win against the group.
Candace Parker tells @HoopsAndBrews: "We've got one win against the teams in the top five... so at this point, yeah there's positives that we can take from it, but we're getting our ass kicked by the top teams."— Sabreena Merchant (@sabreenajm) September 5, 2020
They get another chance to improve that record when they take on fifth-seeded Chicago Sunday.