LA Sparks off to 3-0 start after the break

August 17, 2021 – Nneka Ogwumike shoots over Elizabeth Williams. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld)

Three games into the second half of the WNBA season, the LA Sparks and Atlanta Dream are two teams trending in opposite directions, for now.

After beating Indiana at home Sunday, the Sparks hosted the Dream twice, and walked away with close wins both times. Tuesday’s matchup saw LA squander a lead, and they needed a Kristi Toliver fade away jumper at the buzzer to tie the score and force an overtime. They prevailed after five more minutes, 85-80.

Two nights later Atlanta again staged a comeback, after falling behind. This time it was a Nneka Ogwumike put-back on a missed Toliver trey with .6 to go that sealed the 66-64 win.

The Dream have lost their last seven games, dating back before the Olympic break in July. The Sparks broke on a six-game losing streak, but have now won three in a row. The return of Ogwumike, who had been out since June 1 with a knee injury, has injected new life into both the team, and the veteran All-Star.

Toliver, who missed six games herself with an eye injury, said the “grind out” wins demonstrate LA’s resiliency and composure.

“Tonight, things weren’t going our way…..they were able to fight back and chip away,” she said after the second game against Atlanta. “But we didn’t hang out heads, and that shows our maturity and growth that we can win games like that.”

Ogwumike was out with injury for the longest time in her career. Then USA Basketball declined to select her for the U.S. Olympic team, and she wasn’t voted an All-Star. In an emotional press conference Aug. 9, Ogwumike said she had felt “unvaluable and unworthy” during that time, but was rallying back.

Last Sunday Ogwumike scored the final bucket of the game, and she has been playing with similarly renewed zeal and enthusiasm. That included taking a charge in last night’s matchup, which she said afterward was a conscious decision.

“When you come back from injury, the last thing you want to do is fall. But it was the game, and it was the right play to make,” Ogwumike said. “If you play in fear, that really limits you. And I didn’t want to play in fear – especially down the stretch. My teammates do a really great job of making sure I remember who I am.”

Atlanta has had a hard road this season, with coaches departing and players in and out. Three of their losses have been nail-biters. But Courtney Williams, the team’s scoring, rebounds and assists leader, remains optimistic.

“As you can see from our last few games, we’re right there. A couple different possessions and the game is ours,” she said. “It’s a focus thing – not an effort things or a chemistry thing. As you can see, we’ve been in it every single game. We’re resilient, and when we’re down we continue to fight for each other.”

“We fixed the big things, now it’s a matter of fixing the mechanics. I’m excited for what this team can do. It’s a matter of getting over the hump….we’re right there, we’re going to get it.”

The 9-13 Sparks, currently ninth in the standings, hit the road for six games. The 11th-place Dream, at 6-16, head home for a three-game stand.