WNBA playoffs: Dearica Hamby's jaw-dropping steal, 3-point toss send Aces over Sky; Sparks defeat Storm

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/los" data-ylk="slk:Los Angeles Sparks">Los Angeles Sparks</a> guard <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/players/5197/" data-ylk="slk:Chelsea Gray">Chelsea Gray</a> fueled a second-quarter run over the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/sea" data-ylk="slk:Seattle Storm">Seattle Storm</a>. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray fueled a second-quarter run over the Seattle Storm. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The WNBA will have a new champion this season after the No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks pulled away late in the second half to defeat the No. 6 Seattle Storm, 92-69, in the second round of the postseason.

The No. 4 Aces survived against upset-minded No. 5 Chicago Sky, 93-92, with a shocking steal and deep 3-pointer by Dearica Hamby to advance.

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The Sparks will play the No. 2 Connecticut Sun while the Aces travel to offensive powerhouse Washington Mystics. The best-of-five semifinal series begin Tuesday.

Aces’ Hamby stuns Sky

Dearica Hamby saved the Aces season as the Sky threw theirs away.

Hamby, who accepted her Sixth Woman of the Year award before the game, stole a final-seconds pass by Courtney Vandersloot as time was winding down and the Sky up, 92-90. The Sky only had to run out the clock to move on from a back-and-forth game that has been the highlight of the postseason.

Instead of streaking up the sideline, Hamby threw up a shot that went in with 5 seconds left and laid down shock on everyone’s faces.

Hamby finished with 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals off the bench. Her final points were the 20th lead change of the game.

Astou Ndour hit only her 15th 3-pointer of the season all alone in the corner with 24.1 seconds on the clock to give Chicago a two-point lead, 92-90. It marked the 19th lead change of the game, seven of which occurred in the final quarter, and closed a 7-0 run. She got into early foul trouble and spent time on the bench, but finished with 17 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Liz Cambage led the Aces with 23 points and 17 rebounds. The Aces big lineup of Cambage (6-foot-8), A’ja Wilson (6-4) and Hamby (6-3) fueled multiple runs to get back in it with Chicago. The Sky led by 15 in the second quarter and again by 10 in the third before an intense final 12 minutes.

Wilson also had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Kelsey Plum had 15 points and six assists off the bench. Kayla McBride laid in 16 points as well.

Diamond DeShields continued her stellar postseason debut with a team-high 23 points. Vandersloot had 12 assists.

The Sky took a 10-point lead midway through the third on a 13-0 run, but it didn’t take long for the Aces to battle back into the lead. Cambage got the bucket-and-1 and Plum hit a 3-pointer followed by 3-point play. She went in for the game-leading that fortunately bounced out into Cambage’s arcing fingers to make it 63-62.

The momentum began to swing like a violent yo-yo through the rest of the quarter, closing with a 76-75 Aces lead. Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer said on the ESPN broadcast his team got its energy back after coming out of the locker room flat.

The Sky was on fire to start the game, shooting 63 percent in the first quarter to lead, 29-21, at the half. Vandersloot assist on five of the team’s 10 made field goals. The Aces struggled from the floor and didn’t get a field goal from either Cambage or Wilson until the 13-minute mark. They combined for three free throws in the first.

The Sky led, 51-45, at the half.

Las Vegas will take a charter to play the No. 1 Mystics, the most efficient offense in history.

Sparks’ Gray answers Storm

Gray scored a game-high 21 points complemented by eight assists and three rebounds. She was 4 of 7 from 3-point range, leading the squad’s 40.7 percent mark from behind the arc.

Whether via setups or buckets, Gray consistently answered Storm runs throughout the tightly contested battle. Seattle came within one point a handful of times, but never held the advantage again after a 23-22 lead through one quarter.

It was Gray who took that lead back for Los Angeles, fueling a 9-0 run with a pull-up jumper, two assists and a 3-pointer for a 31-23 lead with 6:41 left in the second quarter.

Candace Parker scored 11 points with a team-high 10 rebounds and six assists. The veteran tweaked her knee within the last two minutes of the first quarter, but stayed in despite limping and didn’t miss any notable time.

Nneka Ogwumike laid in 17 points with six rebounds and two steals. Riquna Williams added 11 points with four rebounds and two steals.

Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard paced the defending champion Storm with 20 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and two assists.

Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd, the Seattle backcourt that outscored its Minnesota counterparts 48-1 in the first round, were quieted once again at Staples Center. Canada scored 10 points and Loyd had 11. They averaged a combined 17 points per game over three regular-season matchups against L.A.

The Storm shot 39.1 percent as a team, trailing the Sparks’ 48.7 percent, and had 17 turnovers.

Seattle and Los Angeles traded runs in the opening quarter, first with the Storm reeling off 10 consecutive points then nine by the Sparks. The Storm continued to stay in it and didn’t allow a double-digit lead until the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Sparks (23-12) led 43-36 at halftime and 67-58 going into the final 10 minutes. They’re now 16-2 at Staples Center this season, but will go on the road to play the No. 2 Connecticut Sun.

The WNBA announced earlier Sunday it will pay for teams to take charter flights for their semifinal best-of-five series, which begin Tuesday on the East coast. Rather than take a 9:45 p.m. PT flight and face potential delays on top of that, the Sparks were packed and ready to go on an immediate charter flight if they won.

The No. 5 Chicago Sky tipped off against the No. 4 Las Vegas Aces at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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