Sparks eliminate Sky to advance to WNBA Finals

Kristi Toliver drives for two of her 21 points against the Sky. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sky.
Kristi Toliver drives for two of her 21 points against the Sky. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sky.

Rosemont Ill. – The Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Chicago Sky, 95-75 Tuesday in the WNBA semifinals, taking the series, 3-1. With the win, they advance to the Finals, where they will face the Minnesota Lynx.

Candace Parker netted 29 points and Kristi Toliver added 21 for Los Angeles.

The Sparks return to the Finals for the first time since 2003, while Minnesota makes their fifth Finals appearance in six years. The match up will feature a showdown between the league’s top two seeds, and between two teams that many fans have been wanting in the Finals for a long time. With the change in the WNBA playoff format this year, that face off is finally possible.

Sparks coach Brian Agler acknowledged the win is big for the franchise.

“This organization, this team, this core group of players took a big step tonight, to get themselves to win a series, to get themselves in a finals,” he said. “I am really proud to watch them go through that evolution.”

“Even a team like Minnesota, who has been there several times, they are going to tell you that it’s not easy. It takes a lot of perseverance, resiliency. It takes toughness, both mental and physical. You have to have some luck on your side in regards to health. And things have to fall into place. I could not be more proud and happier for our team, our players, and our organization.”

Toliver started the scoring attack for Los Angeles with a three-point basket, and they lead Chicago 23-11 after one quarter. Toliver was 4-4 on three-point shots.

The Sparks built a big cushion at halftime, but the Sky mounted a run in the third quarter, lead by Cappie Pondexter. The guard scored 10 of her 19 points in the period, trimming the Los Angeles lead to 10.

But the visitors found their extra gear in the fourth quarter, going on an 8-0 run to again pad the lead.

Nneka Ogwumike, who put up 17 points for the Sparks, said they had to make adjustments in the fourth.

“They had a very heavy zone, and that’s something that we struggled with last game and a little bit in the first two games as well, when they made their surges” Ogwumike said.

“A lot of the time in the zones you can get stuck, literally, without moving the ball with all the bodies in the zone and I think we did a good job of moving the ball and getting bodies in the gaps. I also think that we did a lot better of a job on our on-the-ball defense. We did a much better job of defending pick and rolls at that point and helping from the backside.”

Imani Boyette notched 19 points with ten rebounds for the Sky, while Clarissa Dos Santos and Jessica Breland added 14 and 12 points, respectively. Boyette, a rookie, said the team has plenty of takeaways from the series.

“I think the biggest thing that I learned, and that’s what we kind of talked about in our meeting, is just starting fast,” she said.

“We dug ourselves a hole this entire series, and they’re a great team, so getting out of that hole is hard when you’re playing a great team. So definitely starting fast and being locked in from the jump, and I think that’s what I struggled with the first two games in particular.”

Game 1 of the five-game Finals series begins Sunday in Minnesota. Parker noted the two team’s success this season, but is reluctant to call it a rivalry just yet.

“It’s been a tough series; they beat us twice on our home court we beat them once on theirs,” Parker said. “I don’t like to call it a rivalry until we hold up our end of the bargain and make it that; so I think obviously they’ve been there, they’re experienced, they know what it takes to win a championship.”

“This is our first time (in the Finals), so we have a lot to learn and we have to learn it fast. They’re a great team, we’ve got to keep them out of transition and we’ve got to play defense. I think if we do that, other things follow.”