2 MVPs too much; Sparks rout Sky 95-75 in playoff opener
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) Two MVPs were too much for the Chicago Sky.
Candace Parker scored 19 of her 30 points in the first half, Nneka Ogwumike added 27, and the Los Angeles Sparks won 95-75 in the teams' semifinal playoff opener Wednesday night.
Two-time WNBA MVP Parker had nine rebounds and newly crowned MVP Ogwumike had 10 rebounds and six assists for the Sparks, who were playing their first game in 12 days after early-round byes in the revamped playoffs. The game was at the Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus, 24 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
''Nneka and I have a really good chemistry in the high-low and we were able to capitalize on that,'' Parker said. ''It's been an amazing journey for me to sit back and watch Nneka develop as she has. You rarely see an MVP dive on the floor and get an extra possession for your team. I'm learning just as much from her.''
Ogwumike has been teammates with Parker since 2012.
''With Candace there's so much to learn from her. She sees the game,'' Ogwumike said. ''We understand each other's game.''
The Sky was missing injured Elena Delle Donne and her team-leading averages of 21.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. In her absence, the offensive load was spread among four players. Jamierra Faulkner scored a leading 13 points off the bench. Cappie Pondexter added 12, Tamera Young had 11 and Courtney Vandersloot 10.
''One thing I can guarantee is missed shots or turnovers, we're going to come back an even stronger team in this second game,'' Pondexter said.
The Sky forced seven turnovers in the opening quarter when they trailed by two. But they couldn't keep up the pressure and Los Angeles outscored Chicago 30-15 in the second, the Sparks' highest-scoring period of the game.
''If you give up a 30-point quarter to that team, it's tough to beat,'' Vandersloot said. ''After that it seemed like we were just trading baskets and not doing enough to win.''
The Sparks ran off nine straight points for an 86-65 lead in the fourth.
The Sky never got closer than 12 points in the third, with Parker scoring the Sparks' final six points on a three-point play and a 3-pointer. Ogwumike had 12 in the quarter, including eight in a row, stealing the ball and converting at the other end in one possession.
''I don't like her going right all the time. I want to see her go left and score,'' Sky coach Pokey Chatman said of Ogwumike. ''You have to make people go to their countermove and make them uncomfortable, and we didn't do that enough.''
The Sparks led 52-35 at halftime, pulling away with a 23-8 run to end the second quarter. Parker had nine points, Ogwumike seven and Kristi Toliver hit a 3-pointer to cap their scoring. They shot 62 percent in the half.
Three-time NBA MVP Magic Johnson hugged Ogwumike before she received her WNBA MVP trophy from league president Lisa Borders before the game. On hand to support Ogwumike was her sister Chiney, who plays for the Connecticut Sun, their mother and an uncle. ''It's great to see big boss at our games,'' Parker said of Johnson, who co-owns the team. ''We were fortunate to talk to him before the playoffs began and to pick his brain about what it takes to win a championship.'' ... Sparks C Jantel Lavender won the league's sixth woman award on Wednesday, receiving 26 of the 39 votes from a national media panel. Lavender came off the bench in all 34 regular-season games after being a starter the previous two seasons. She averaged 9.6 points and shot a career-high 53.8 percent from the field.
DELLE DONNE'S THUMB
Delle Donne sat on the Sky bench in street clothes with a wrap on her right thumb after recent surgery. She joined Betnijah Laney, who is out with an ACL tear, under the basket while the team warmed up for the second half.
Toliver was 3 of 7 from 3-point range, extending her streak as the only player in the league to make at least one 3 in every game played. She hit 81 from long-range in 33 regular-season games.
The Sparks will select fourth in the 2017 draft as a result of the lottery held earlier Wednesday. They had 227 chances out of 1,000 to land the top pick, which went to San Antonio. The Sparks acquired Connecticut's lottery pick through a draft-day trade in April.
Game 2 is Friday at Staples Center, the Sparks' home court that was unavailable for the best-of-five series' opener because the Los Angeles Kings were playing an exhibition.