It looked like the Sparks’ winning streak was up. Atlanta Dream guard Courtney Williams had just pulled up for a go-ahead jumper over Sparks forward Candace Parker’s outstretched arm to give Atlanta a two-point lead with 6.1 seconds left to play.
But Parker was not to be outdone.
The forward caught the in-bounds pass at the 3-point line, dribbled to her right and went straight to the rim, laying the ball off the glass and into the cylinder at the buzzer to force overtime, the first of the WNBA season.
With five extra minutes, the Sparks were able to run away from the Dream behind a pair of Chelsea Gray 3-pointers to escape with a 93-85 win.
“We don’t have an overtime without that bucket. It was clutch,” Gray said of Parker’s buzzer beater. “Coach drew up a great play to give her some space, all she had to do was finish it and put it in the rack. We had confidence in her to do that and she went right by her and finished it.”
It was the sixth win in a row for the Sparks (9-3), but it didn’t come without bad news.
Sparks guard Riquna Williams, the team’s dependable sixth woman, left the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury. The veteran guard tried to make a spin move to the basket but stepped on a defender’s foot and twisted her leg.
Williams, who has been averaging 12.4 points and 1.5 assists this season, fell to the court and grabbed the knee in pain before walking off the court and into the locker room, unable to return to the game.
Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said Williams would get an MRI Friday night, and hoped they would get news of her status on Saturday.
“She left in good spirits,” Fisher added.
The warning signs this wouldn’t be an easy win started early for the Sparks as Atlanta (2-11) built an 8-0 lead in the opening 90 seconds. But the run was broken by Sparks guard Brittney Sykes. Los Angeles kept chipping away at the advantage until a Sydney Wiese 3 courtesy of a pass from Sykes gave the Sparks their first lead with 4:56 left in the first quarter.
It was Sykes’ first time playing against the Dream, her former team which traded her to the Sparks this offseason. She played like it was a revenge game, with 12 points and a pair of steals.
She added four assists, including another to Wiese for a transition layup after Sykes deflected an Atlanta pass to herself, and an overtime block to help keep the Dream at bay.
“We’re trying to win a championship. It happened to be Atlanta today that we played and we’re on to the next one,” Sykes said, dismissing the idea of extra motivation.
The Sparks held a five-point lead at halftime, and while Sykes was playing well, Los Angeles’ All-Stars weren’t a major factor. Parker and Nneka Ogwumike only attempted four field goals each in the first half, though Parker did add six rebounds and three assists prior to the break.
The Sparks tried to get that duo involved early in the third quarter, running a play for Ogwumike to open the second half that resulted in two free throws. It started a 6-0 to push L.A.’s lead to 11.
But the Dream outscored the Sparks 23-10 over the rest of the third quarter, led by reserve forward Glory Johnson, who led all scorers with 23 points. Shekinna Stricklen’s 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left in the quarter gave Atlanta a two-point lead heading into the fourth.
But even playing behind in the fourth quarter, the Sparks defense held firm to set up Parker’s dramatics.
“That’s what it takes in order to win, and I’m glad we got a chance to have this kind of experience like this in a game tonight,” Fisher said.