September 17, 2021
How a win kept Sparks’ playoff hopes alive
Breaking down the stakes for this weekend's games
The Los Angeles Sparks’ quest to make the playoffs remained alive after Thursday night’s 74-68 road win over the Atlanta Dream.
The team got some good news on Wednesday, as the New York Liberty lost to the Connecticut Sun, dropping them a half game behind the Sparks in the race for the playoffs. Thursday’s win gives them a full game up on the Liberty and in sole possession of ninth place.
The Washington Mystics remain in the eighth and final playoff spot, and are in the driver’s seat, but the Sparks hearts beat just a little bit stronger on the heels of their back-to-back wins.
One of the biggest differences in the Sparks’ recent wins that was absent during their tough road trip was their aggressiveness and ability to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. Against the Seattle Storm on Sunday night, the Sparks went to the line 16 times, converting on 15 of those attempts compared to only 13 attempts for the Storm.
Against the Dream, the Sparks got the line 23 times and hit 17 of those compared to 17 attempts for Atlanta. In a close game like the one against the Dream, where every point matters and facing elimination from playoff contention with a loss, being aggressive early really set the tone for the whole game according to Nneka Ogwumike.
“It’s huge. Those are the types of points that you really earn, especially by being aggressive and going to the basket,” Ogwumike said. “We started off early being aggressive and I’m glad that we were able to get to the line and make shots at the line.”
In addition to their continued aggressiveness to get to the stripe, the Sparks continued to make defense their calling card. Throughout the season, the Sparks opponents have taken advantage of their late game offensive dry spells to pull off wins.
The Sparks once again hit a rough patch in the fourth quarter where they were having trouble offensively and Atlanta was putting together a run and threatening to play spoiler to the Sparks playoff chances.
But the Sparks clamped down defensively and were able to hit just enough shots to keep the Dream at bay. Tiffany Hayes, the Dream’s star guard who has just begun to really find her rhythm, started off the game 5-for-7 shooting from the field en route to 25 points. But she went 3-11 the rest of the way and wasn’t much of a factor in the fourth quarter.
Brittney Sykes, who has been tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best wing scorer all season, took pride in knowing the team’s defense was a catalyst to victory.
“Our defense is our staple. That’s what people try to prepare for and it’s really big especially for what we’re trying to do now to just really come in and lock these people down and make shots,” Sykes said. “We’ve been doing that… We figured it out, we did a better job. If one person is going off, everybody can’t go off. If Tip has 25 and only two other people had double figures, I think we did a really good job trying to defend the perimeter the way we want to.
Even with their recent improved play, the Sparks are still going to need a little help in making the playoffs. The Washington Mystics have two games remaining against New York and the Minnesota Lynx. They only need to win one of those two games to beat out the Sparks for the eighth spot.
WIth both of those games coming before the Sparks final game on Sunday afternoon, it’s likely they’ll know their fate before they even tip-off against Dallas. After the game, Sparks head coach and general manager Derek Fisher acknowledged that they’ll definitely be following along with the Washington/New York game.
“It’s the reality of the situation we’ve put ourselves in. With the injuries and the disruption to our season, we haven’t been able to perform as well and be as consistent to already be in the playoffs,” Fisher said. “We can only do the things we can control. We’ve taken that first step tonight… It’s unfortunate that we’re in a situation where we’re hoping somebody else doesn’t do well, but that’s a part of sports and hopefully as we go forward these won’t be things we have to navigate at the end of our season.”