LOS ANGELES — Candace Parker is one game away from getting the Los Angeles Sparks to the WNBA Finals. This time, she doesn’t want to miss.
Parker had 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 99-84 victory over the Chicago Sky on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 semifinals.
“My rookie year, it seems like just yesterday, barely missing the finals,” said Parker, now in her ninth season. “When I left the court, I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll be back’ and that hasn’t happened.”
The Sparks haven’t won the WNBA championship since taking back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002, when Lisa Leslie starred for the franchise.
“We’ve learned these opportunities don’t just come around and we have to take advantage of it,” Parker said.
Parker wasn’t chosen for the U.S. women’s Olympic team that won gold in Rio de Janeiro after helping them to gold medals in 2008 and 2012. But she resisted Chicago coach Pokey Chatman’s assessment that she’s playing with a chip on her shoulder.
“I don’t think there was anything to prove but that we could get to the finals and we’re capable of winning a championship,” Parker said. “Our team has played as such. That’s the way you have to play when you want to put yourself in position to win a championship.”
League sixth woman of the year Jantel Lavender added 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting, league MVP Nneka Ogwumike had 18, Kristi Toliver 17 and Essence Carson 11 in the Sparks’ return to their home court at Staples Center. They won Game 1 by 20 points in Long Beach on Wednesday.
The Sparks shot 54 percent from the field.
Toliver hit four of the Sparks’ 10 3-pointers. The Sky was 3 of 13 from long-range.
Reserve Clarissa Dos Santos scored 15 points and Jamierra Faulkner added 14 off the bench for the Sky. Cappie Pondexter had 13.
“We didn’t start off well,” Faulkner said. “We allowed them to get comfortable and we can’t allow that to happen again.”
Chicago rallied to close within 10 after trailing by 21 early in the third, led by Courtney Vandersloot and Tamera Young, who finished with 12.
The Sparks recovered, going on a 10-1 run that extended their lead to 78-59 going into the fourth. Chelsea Gray had a three-point play and passed to a streaking Lavender, who converted on the fast break before hitting a 20-foot jumper herself.
“She’s a microwave. That’s what I call her,” Parker said of Lavender. “She comes and she heats up.”
Just as in Game 1, the Sparks rode a big second quarter to a dominating lead. Two nights earlier, they scored 30 points in the period. This time, they outscored the Sky 29-15, including a 12-0 run to open the quarter. The offensive load was distributed among four players: Carson had eight points, Ogwumike added seven, and Parker and Lavender had six each.
“When we’re playing well and we’re cheering for each other it’s always going to be fun,” Ogwumike said, “and we want it to be that all the way.”
The Sparks improved to 5-0 against the Sky, including three regular-season victories. … Sparks G Alana Beard and Ogwumike were named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive first team. … Brian Agler of the Sparks finished second to Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve in the voting for league coach of the year. … Sparks co-owner Magic Johnson introduced Olympic track champion Allyson Felix to a standing ovation in the third, drawing a shy smile from the low-key Felix. … Also on hand was Clippers All-Star Chris Paul, retired Lakers star Derek Fisher and Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations.
WHAT A SHOT
Toliver hit a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to end the first quarter. Sandwiched between two defenders, she tossed up the ball from the left side while falling down, giving the Sparks a 28-27 lead after they had been outscored 11-2.
“Kristi shoots typical Kristi shots,” Ogwumike said. “You really can’t explain them.”
Chatman said Sky star Elena Delle Donne would not suit up for Game 3. She watched in street clothes because of a right thumb injury. Delle Donne shared the league scoring title with New York’s Tina Charles, averaging 21. 5 points.
Game 3 is Sunday in Chicago.