The Los Angeles Sparks set up a thrilling second half to defeat the Minnesota Lynx 77-68. With the loss, the Lynx clinched the seventh seed in the WNBA Playoffs, set to battle against the Seattle Storm in Seattle.
Guard Riquna Williams landed four three-pointers to lead the Sparks with 15 points and forward Candace Parker earned seven rebounds and guard Chelsea Gray made eight assists. Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier hustled to lead with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
With the Sparks earning a third seed, they ascend past the first round of the playoffs. They will play the first-round winner with the lowest seed, possibly leading them to play the sixth seed Seattle Storm, seventh seed Minnesota Lynx or eighth seed Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.
If the Sparks win that game, they will battle the Connecticut Sun, leaving the second round winner to take on the top-seeded Washington Mystics.
Last season the Sparks earned a sixth seed and defeated the Minnesota Lynx in the first round but lost to the Washington Mystics in the second. This season, the Sparks have home court advantage and a bye week, reminiscent to their back-to-back WNBA Finals runs.
“Last year, we had to play the first elimination game and we had one day in between, this year they play on Wednesday,” said forward Nneka Ogwumike. “So, having the bye really matters.”
The WNBA Playoffs format could remind your average sports fan of the NFL’s, except the top two teams skip the first two rounds and the eight teams with the highest winning percentage in the league qualify. This format was adopted in 2016, with a hope to create a more competitive postseason.
While Sparks coach Derek Fisher sees having one-game elimination rounds as an exciting puzzle, Nneka noted if the league will return to the prior format which only had series matches.
“It’s interesting to see how long we’re gonna go with this format because we were told it was only gonna be two or three years,” she said. “We readdressed it and no one really directly told us whether or not we’d go back.”
Fisher looks forward to figuring out how to win the series, mentioning his love to compete.
“I still love to figure out what are the buttons to push to try to help the team that I’m on win,” he said. “That’s what I go to sleep and wake up thinking about every day.”
This final in-season game determined the seeding of the Lynx, win would have given them a sixth seed and home court in the first round. The Lyn had control of the game in the early minutes, Collier and center Sylvia Fowles made baskets and rebounds.
The Sparks found their shot in the second quarter and went into halftime with a two-point lead.
Riquna Williams hit two three-pointers to start the third quarter. The Sparks’ defense forced turnovers, ruining the Lynx possessions. Guard Chelsea Gray dished Globetrotter-esque assists, helping the Sparks lead as much as 12 points
The fourth was managed by forward Chiney Ogwumike and guard Marina Mabrey, who combined to score 17 points during that time. The Sparks displayed yet another impressive defensive performance with 12 steals and four blocks.
The Sparks will not know who they will see in the second round until Wednesday, they will play again on Sunday, September 15.