Parker scores 29 points to lead Sparks over Sky
ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) Candace Parker is finally in the WNBA Finals.
Her first trip to the championship caps off an eventful, and at times difficult, year for the Los Angeles Sparks star.
She was left off the Olympic team despite being a two-time gold medalist and mourned the passing of her college coach, Tennessee's Pat Summitt. Now she has a chance to win her first WNBA title, the only thing missing from her incredible basketball resume.
Parker scored 29 points and the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Chicago Sky 95-75 on Tuesday night to advance to the WNBA Finals.
''It's been a long journey. We haven't done anything yet. We haven't accomplished our goal,'' Parker said.
Parker shot 6 of 10 from the field and made 14 of her 15 free throws to lead the Sparks to the finals for the first time since 2003 after they won championships in 2001 and 2002.
''It's been an emotional year for her,'' Sparks coach Brian Agler said. ''She had a great year, a great playoff. We all know Candace is one of the best in the world. We like it when the ball is in her hands.''
Parker missed the finals her rookie year in 2008 when the Sparks lost in the Western Conference finals.
''You're young. You think, `Oh, we'll be back next year','' Parker said. ''That didn't happen, then the next and the next. You look up and it's eight years. I really appreciate this.''
Kristi Toliver added 21 points and league MVP Nneka Ogwumike had 17 points and nine rebounds for the second-seeded Sparks, who won the semifinal series 3-1.
They will face the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in a best-of-5 series for the league title. The top-seeded Lynx swept Phoenix in the other semifinal and will be going for their fourth title in six years.
Cappie Pondexter scored 19 points and rookie Imani Boyette had 15 to lead the fourth-seeded Sky. Clarissa Dos Santos had 14 points and Jessica Breland added 12. Chicago played without 2015 MVP and leading scorer Elena Delle Donne, who has a thumb injury.
The Sparks won the first two games of the series by an average of 17.5 points before the Sky took Game 3 70-66 on Sunday.
''For the most part we played with a lot more composure tonight,'' Agler said.
After shooting 6-of-33 from beyond the arc in Game 3 against the Sky's zone, the Sparks made 9 of their 13 3-pointers Tuesday. Toliver hit all four of her 3s.
''We just countered (the zone) with movement,'' Ogwumike said. ''A lot of times you can get stuck literally without moving the ball and bodies in the zone. We did a great job of moving the ball and recognizing gaps.''
The Sparks shot 55 percent from the field and made 28 of their 30 free throws.
The Sky got within eight early in the fourth quarter before Parker scored the next eight points on a 3-pointer and five free throws to put the game away.
''I give her all the credit. She did what she had to do for her team to advance,'' Pondexter said.
The Sparks won six of their seven games against Chicago this season and scored at least 93 points in five of those victories. . Los Angeles dropped two of three to Minnesota during the regular season. ... Toliver has made at least one 3 in every game she has played.
Delle Donne missed her 10th consecutive game after undergoing thumb surgery on Sept. 13.
''I'm extremely proud of them, but I'm not surprised,'' Sky coach Pokey Chatman said of how her team played without Delle Donne. ''We sped up the pace a little bit.''
Game 1 of the WNBA Finals is Sunday in Minneapolis