August 17, 2021 

How the Sparks found a winning formula in return to Staples Center

Sparks pull out a win in return to Staples Center.

The last time the Los Angeles Sparks played a home game at Staples Center, it was September 15, 2019 in the first round of the playoffs against the Seattle Storm. 

Due to scheduling conflicts with the Emmy Awards, the Sparks were forced away from Staples Center in the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun that season. The 2020 WNBA season was played in the bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. And due to the NBA playing late into the summer this season, the Sparks played their home games for the first half of the season across the street at the LA Convention Center.

The Sparks finally made their return to Staples Center Sunday night against the Indiana Fever as the WNBA resumed play following the Olympic break. The game also marked the return of Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver who had both been out with injuries. 

Behind the return of their veteran stars and the energy from the Staples Center faithful, the Sparks snapped their six-game losing streak with a 75-70 win. Dating back to previous seasons, the Sparks have now won 16 consecutive games at Staples Center.

After the game, Ogwumike, the longest tenured Spark and one of the only players on the roster who has actually played at Staples Center as a member of the team, credited the home atmosphere for helping will the team to victory.

“This is home. I’m glad that we have some new members of the family getting acclimated to this being home,” Ogwumike said. “It always feels so familiar to me, it feels so great to be back in Staples Center. All the gratitude to transforming the Convention Center, but Staples is really where it’s at for us and I hope that we continue to use that energy being at home to play well.”

Playing in her first game since June 1, Ogwumike was able to shake off some visible rust and build up a little bit of a rhythm in the second half. She hit a big shot late in the fourth quarter to help hold off the Fever and she ended the game with an exclamation fast break bucket off a pass from Brittney Sykes. She finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots.

Sykes, who came up with a late steal in the final seconds to dash Indiana’s hopes at tying the game, recalled seeing Ogwumike sprinting down court and knew that she had to make that pass to finish it off.

“I knew if I didn’t throw it, it would have been a whole new story to talk about after the game. I joked with Nneka to tell her, ‘yeah the way you looked at me was like if I didn’t throw it, it would have been a bad situation.’” Sykes said with a laugh. “I got the steal, I saw the time and I wanted the assist, so I just lobbed it up enough to where she could catch it and lay it up. She got it and I was happy. That’s like a perfect way to end the game.”

For a team that struggled to put up points during the first half of the season, the return of Ogwumike and Toliver really helped open up the floor for the rest of the team. The offense kind of stagnated a bit in the third quarter, but overall the rest of the team felt very comfortable offensively alongside their veteran stars. 

Amanda Zahui B., who spent much of the first half of the season as the Sparks only true center, was often tasked with the ball in her hands at times and having to create her own shot. Against the Fever, she was able to get some off-ball scoring opportunities and after the game she spoke about how much easier the game is with a healthy roster.

“We are a completely different team with the two of them on the court. They draw so much attention and it makes the game easier for everyone,” Zahui B. said. “It’s a beautiful thing to be out there and see it, it creates for everyone else. None of them are selfish players that need to go up and finish, they just read the game and their IQ is so high. I’m just really happy.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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