The Sparks Plug: Ever Spark should fuel the fire
Over the past two weeks, the Los Angeles Sparks players took turns proving they deserve the name on the front of their jersey.
Following a roller coaster 2-5 start, the Sparks turned in much better results with a 3-1 record in their next four games. In each win, a different player has, well, “sparked” the victory.
Every game has become a unique story with a different hero. It’s been compelling, fun and most importantly, successful.
This pattern started with the Sparks’ home game against the Phoenix Mercury, the team’s second home game of the year. It was tightly contested, with neither team pulling away. However, the Sparks found some momentum that they were able to sustain to outlast the Mercury and win the game.
It all started when forward Katie Lou Samuelson — who finished the game with 17 points — sent the Crypto.com Arena into a frenzy. Samuelson, who once set the NCAA record for the most 3-pointers made without a miss (10), has shown that she can knock down threes with the best of them when she’s right.
After hitting a three in the second quarter, her teammates suspected that her shot was indeed right. On the next possession, they immediately got the ball back into her hands, and she cashed in a second consecutive three without hesitation.
The play was emblematic of what Samuelson can bring when she’s making shots: the ability to swing momentum.
It’s an underrated, intangible attribute in basketball, but time and time again, one player can hit a couple shots and suddenly the whole team is storming back from a big deficit or speeding ahead and winning a blowout.
Even though they weren’t crunch-time shots, Samuelson’s back-to-back threes in the second quarter were two of the most important in the entire game because of the ensuing circumstances. The Sparks were suddenly on a run, the home fans were screaming and the Mercury were hurriedly calling timeout, afraid of letting the game go on any longer.
It all showed just how dangerous Samuelson is. She can turn the game on its head and bring energy to the Sparks and their fans just by hitting a couple shots. This could make her one of the most important players for the Sparks in the long run, even though she isn’t one of the primary ball handlers.
Following a tough loss to the Indiana Fever, the Sparks lost starting point guard Jordin Canada to a hamstring injury. Former Head Coach Derek Fisher put guard Chennedy Carter into the starting lineup in their next game against the Minnesota Lynx in response.
All Carter did in her first start of the season was lead the team in scoring, assists and rebounds. The backup point guard was suddenly the star of the team, at least for a night.
Carter’s full stat sheet was an attribute to her great, high-level energy, which has always made her a fan favorite. That energy was likely even higher due to her determination to make the most of a starting role.
The Sparks could have become discouraged due to the loss of their starting guard. Instead, Carter sparked the team to rally around her and get another victory despite the adversity.
For the third win, it was guard Brittney Sykes’ time to shine. Sykes didn’t need a starting role to lead the team. Always the first one off the bench, Sykes made sure she stayed on the court with fantastic play against the Dallas Wings. She finished with 24 points, leading the team, and also secured two important steals.
Sykes is the Sparks’ best defender, so when she is scoring, she is going to get tons of minutes. The Sparks needed every bit of offense and defense that she could provide in their hard-fought, two-point win against the Wings.
The winning run has shown that the Sparks have some of the best depth in the WNBA. Three different players who were on the bench to begin the season starred on three different nights, leading to three wins.
The Sparks should keep trying to find heroes in unlikely places. They are built with the kind of depth where every player on the team can be a leader, and keeping everyone involved has proved to be a better strategy for the Sparks than relying solely on their stars.
Why do I think leading by committee instead of relying on one superstar will continue to work?
Many reasons. Depth is built for longevity. Basketball is still a team sport, no matter how much some analysts want to focus on the individuals. But mostly, it’s because it’s ingrained into their identity. The more Sparks involved, the easier it will be for the team to catch fire.
I hope they can embrace that identity and torch the rest of the league on their way to a championship.
Ethan Inman is a rising sophomore writing about how he recently became a fan of the L.A. Sparks. His column, “The Sparks Plug,” runs every other Wednesday.