The Los Angeles Sparks overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat the Atlanta Dream in overtime on Tuesday night.
Fast forward two days later, both teams were once again in for a familiar back-and-forth battle that was decided by one shot at the buzzer.
Nneka Ogwumike rushed the offensive glass, snatched a Kristi Toliver miss in a crowded paint, and scored the go-ahead putback basket with 0.1 remaining to lift the Sparks to a 66-64 victory over the Dream on Thursday night at Staples Center.
“The right player (Kristi) was taking the shot. I really thought it was going in,” said Ogwumike on the putback basket. “Right place, right time, I’m a post player, it’s my job to crash the boards.”
“Similar games in terms of the finish, having to find a way to grit it out and tough it out,” said Sparks coach Derek Fisher on facing a gritty Atlanta team again. “That’s just how it goes sometimes. Your intentions are always to come out and play your best game, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
Ogwumike finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Toliver and Amanda Zahui B added 10 apiece.
Los Angeles improved to 9-13 and extended its winning streak to three straight after a season pause from the Olympic break. The Sparks are also just a half-game out of eighth place, looking to grasp another postseason berth.
“You never want to be in these tight games, but they’re also great learning opportunities for you,” said Toliver, who made headlines on Thursday for accepting an assistant coach position for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
“First I want to congratulate us for winning this game… obviously excited to be around Luka and company. Great team, great players, couldn’t be more thankful,” added Toliver.
Courtney Williams posted 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Dream, while Aari McDonald had 15, all of which came in the second half.
“I think it’s amazing. I think the growth and evolution of coaching and hopefully us getting beyond labels in terms of gender and color…we’re just all trying to do right by the game of basketball,” Fisher said of Toliver’s coaching position.
The Sparks held a 36-28 advantage at halftime and led by as many as 17 in the third, but Atlanta would not go away quietly.
The Dream outscored Los Angeles 21-10 in the fourth and went on a 11-2 run with 5:21 left in the period to make things extremely interesting.
McDonald hit a three with 1:06 to go followed by Crystal Bradford hitting one of her own to tie the game at 64-64 with 32 seconds remaining.
Ogwumike then made the play of the night, crashing the glass more aggressively than anyone else on the court while converting the go-ahead basket with 0.1 remaining to give the Sparks a huge 66-64 victory.
“That’s the special thing about Nneka, you can always count on her. She stays composed in the most chaotic situations… she’s just a pursuer of the basketball,” Toliver said.
The Sparks will next prepare for a lengthy six-game road trip that starts on Sunday in New York against the Liberty at 11 AM.
“We’re definitely going to have to take this grit on the road, it’s never easy but we know we have a long trip ahead, we’re gonna keep that one-game-at-a-time mentality and take it from there,” said Toliver.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to really show where we are as a team and the lessons that we have learned,” said Fisher.