Lavender is the Sparks' latest weapon in against Chicago
In the first game of the WNBA playoff semifinals between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky, the Sparks' superstars -- two-time league Most Valuable Player Candace Parker and this year's MVP Nneka Ogwumike -- were too much to handle and Los Angeles romped to a 20-point win.
But in Game 2 on Friday, it was the Sparks' role players, and specifically super-sixth-woman Jantel Lavender, who burned Chicago in a 99-84 victory.
The Sky have one more chance to keep their season alive, as the scene shifts from Southern California to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill., and Allstate Arena on Sunday afternoon for Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
For the depleted Sky -- who have been without 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne for eight straight games including its three playoff contests -- it's a matter of finding their stride for long enough to counter Los Angeles' talented wave after wave of clutch performances.
Lavender was on target on Friday, hitting her first nine shots and 10 of her 11 attempts from the floor. Most of her damage was from outside, as the Sky tried to pack the lane to limit the touches by Parker and Ogwumike.
That strategy kept the Sparks' two frontcourt stars to a combined 38 points, 19 less than in Game 1, but it wasn't near enough to keep the game close or produce a win for Chicago.
"(Chicago) just kept leaving me open, so I was just shooting it," Lavender said. "I thought about going back to the basket, but that high-post shot was going in tonight. When I'm open, I'm shooting it, and tonight was a good night."
Lavender has excelled off the bench for Los Angeles, and leads the Sparks' second-unit in performance and attitude.
"Jantel could be a starter for us and most teams in this league," Sparks coach Brian Agler said. "We don't drop off when she's in the game."
Parker set the tone for the Sparks in the early going with eight points, six rebounds and three assists in the first quarter. She either scored or assisted on Los Angeles' first five baskets. She's had double-doubles in the first two games of the series and on Friday was two assists away for her first career triple-double.
Down 65-44 midway through the third quarter on Friday, the Sky forged a 14-3 run to get back to within 10 points of the lead. That effort sapped Chicago, which missed its final seven shots of the period, and Los Angeles stepped on the gas, pulling away to lead 78-59 with a quarter to play.
Six players scored in double figures for the Sky in Game 2, led by reserves Clarissa Dos Santos with 15 points and Jamierra Faulkner with 14.
Los Angeles has now won all five games between the two teams this season, including two on the Sky's home floor when Chicago had Delle Donne in the lineup.