Maurice Dixon


GLENVIEW, IL — You often hear the closeout game is the toughest game of a series. That appeared to be true in the third quarter for the Los Angeles Sparks again but they finished much better this time around and are now on the way to the 2016 WNBA Finals.

A win away from her first-ever Finals appearance, Candace Parker scored 29 points to lead the Sparks to a 95-75 road victory over the Chicago Sky in Game 4 of the semifinals for a 3-1 series win.

“To make it to my first WNBA Finals means a lot,” Parker said. “I love our team chemistry, and from day one of training camp we set this as our goal–winning a championship and now we are one step closer.”

Kristi Toliver, who made all of her shots from the field and free-throw line, had 21 points and Nneka Ogwumike added 17 for Los Angeles, which will face the defending-champion Minnesota Lynx.

After leading by 24 points in the first half, the Sparks had trouble executing in the third quarter and Chicago began chipping away at its deficit just like in Game 3. As a result, Los Angeles only led by 10 (69-59) entering the final period.

Then the Sky quickly got back within single digits, thanks to a layup by Erika de Souza early in the fourth. But Parker had all the answers the Sparks needed. The eight-year veteran responded with a 3-pointer and five straight free throws, rebuilding the lead to 77-61 with 8:18 remaining.

Chicago never got back within single digits and L.A. cruised from thereon to its first trip back to the Finals since 2002.

“This organization deserves it,” Parker said. “I remember eight seasons ago when Sophia Young hit that shot and we were like, ‘we are going to be back there’ and who knew it was going to be eight years later but we kept grinding. At the beginning of the season, we never doubted ourselves. We just kept doing the little things and I think that is what got us here.”

Cappie Pondexter led the shorthanded Sky with 19 points and rookie Imani Boyette added 15 and 12 rebounds. Reserve Clarissa dos Santos scored 14 points and Jessica Breland had 12 for Chicago, which did not have Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP, this postseason due to a thumb injury.

Similar to Game 3, it was all L.A. in the first half. Parker, Ogwumike and Toliver all scored in double figures to help the Sparks to a 12-point advantage at the end of the first quarter and a 55-31 lead at the break.

Los Angeles figured out Chicago’s matchup 2-3 zone in the first 20 minutes and nailed six 3-pointers in that time frame–which were the total number of 3-pointers the Sparks made in the previous game.

Game 1 of the Finals will start Sunday in Minnesota, which won two of the three matchups against Los Angeles this season.

“We know Minnesota is a good team,” Parker said. “They’ve got experience and they are talented. It’s going to be a dog fight. We are going to do our best to prepare and we will see what happens.”