The Aces take control in the second half to beat the Sparks shorthanded.
When asked how sparks were going to prepare for the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces, Laishia Clarendon responded with fists.
The veteran guard kept them in the air and struck.
“Give them a fight,” said Clarendon.
Experiencing a shortage of players and seemingly outnumbered championship favorites, the Sparks fought to win. 94-85 losing at the Crypto.com Arena on Thursday, demonstrating the bright support of a freshman coach at the start of the season Kurt Millerrebuild.
Last year, the Sparks (1-1) would have lost in such a one-sided game, especially without star Nneki Ogwumike, who missed the game with a non-COVID illness. Now that Miller has only played two games, the Sparks look like a brand new franchise.
“There are no moral victories,” Miller said. “But as a founding game and as a building process with us, I can’t be more proud of our competition and our struggles.”
Against a team that won its first season by 41 points, the Sparks struck the first blow. Aces acting coach Natalie Nakase, who led the bench in the second game of Becky Hammon’s two-game suspension, called a timeout less than three minutes into the game when a swarming Sparks defense forced two early transitions to lead 9–4.
As the Aces (2-0) connected to their first mower to cut the Sparks’ 12-point lead to four with 2:13 left in the second quarter, the Sparks hit back with eight straight points, including five from Chinay Ogwumike.
Ogwumike led the Sparks with 19 points. Guard Lexi Brown had 15 points on six-of-nine shooting, including a perfect five-of-five in the first half to help the team take a 10-point lead at halftime.
But as reigning MVP A’ya Wilson surged into third place with eight points, the aces took control. The gap still never exceeded 10.
“This is a team that was bought,” Chinay said to Ogwumike. “A lot of people have been asking, ‘Who are we going to be this year?’ And now people are starting to understand who we are: we are players who play from the heart and fight.”
Wilson, starting two of 10 from the field, finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Jackie Young led the aces with 30 points. Former Sparks stars Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray returned to Los Angeles with 10 and 16, respectively.
After Parker shocked the league by joining the defending champions as a free agent, the Aces immediately became title favorites in the WNBA superteam era. On the opposite coast, New York is on the hunt for its first championship with Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Sabrina Ionescu and Jonkel Jones.
But New York’s debut flopped, losing 80-64 to the Washington Mystics on the opening weekend. The uneven result proved that the hype at the start of the season was not enough to win games.
“Paper never wins,” Miller said. “Championships in this league are not won by the most talented teams, but by the healthiest.”
The Sparks, who face the Aces again on Saturday in Las Vegas, have a long way to go before making a full recovery. Point guard Jasmine Thomas, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in May 2022 with the Connecticut Sun, has resumed contact exercises but has yet to transition to five-on-five work. Forward Azura Stevens, number one for the Sparks. Miller said this week that signing one free agent is further behind due to a nagging back injury.