Rally falls short for Indiana as Sparks hang on to win, 93-88

Tamika Catchings drives to the basket against Nneka Ogwumike. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images.
Tamika Catchings drives to the basket against Nneka Ogwumike. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images.

Los Angeles, Calif. – Having squandered a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter, it was a big coast-to-coast play by Candace Parker in the game’s final seconds that lifted the Sparks over the Fever, 93-88 Wednesday night.

Having lead the visitors the entire way, and by double-digits throughout most of the second half, Los Angeles lead 72-51 early in the fourth quarter. But Indiana veteran Tamika Catchings then ignited for her own person scoring run, which fueled the rest of her team, and the Fever began rallying.

They chipped away at the Sparks lead, cutting it to four with 21 seconds to go. A Tiffany Mitchell three-pointer at 12 seconds cut that lead even further, to 89-88. Two Essence Carson free throws put Los Angeles back up by three.

Then with 2.9 seconds remaining, Parker blocked a Briann January shot, grabbed the ball and raced to the other end of the court, laying it in as time expired.

Nneka Ogwumike lead the Sparks with 23 points, while Parker added 20, Jantel Lavender and Kristi Toliver each added 15, and Alana Beard put up 10.

Los Angeles is now a league-best 17-1, and are three games from tying the 1998 Comets for best season start at 20-1.

Indiana outscored the hosts 39-27 in the fourth quarter – their most points in a period in franchise history, and the second most in league history. They were the Sparks second opponent this season to shoot over 50 percent against them.

The rookie Mitchell lead the Fever with 20 points, while Erlana Larkins added 15 and Catchings, 14.

Ogwumike said it was a collapse on Los Angeles defense that set the table for the Indiana run.

“Our defense was too lackadaisical. We relaxed and they capitalized,” Ogwumike said. “I’m glad we were able to close it out, though. That’s something good to look at, but that never should have happened. We have to be prideful in our defense. We have to take it personally and tonight we did not do that. We just have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Sparks coach Brian Agler said even though the team performed poorly, there is a silver lining.

“There is an alternative to this. We could have let this game slip away,” Agler said. “It was in the realm of possibility that we could lose this game. We had some players make some big free throws, we got the ball inbounds and had a stop on the last possession. There are a lot of things we can learn from that fourth quarter about having a lead, maintaining it, and staying with what works.”

Fever coach Stephanie White said the team’s energy level has been up and down all season long. The fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game is where she’d like it to be all the time.

Candace Parker handles the ball against Tamika Catchings. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images.
Candace Parker handles the ball against Tamika Catchings. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images.

“We were running up and down and making the extra pass. We had more assists in the fourth quarter than we did in the whole first half,” White said. “We just played harder, competed, played with pride and with toughness. I can’t put my finger on why we have these erratic shifts, but that is part of our journey.”

Los Angeles has exceeded expectations this year, demolishing opponent after opponent. Indiana has fallen short due to several injuries to start the season, and then gelling when players returned to the line up.

January said it is not for lack of personnel now that they are 7-11.

“Being inconsistent is our biggest thing right now, and executing on both ends of the court,” January said. “Putting ourselves in positions to be successful and using our strengths. We have so many weapons, and we need to figure out how to optimize them and run out sets and be aggressive all the time.”

The Sparks have three days until their next game, Sunday, when they take on the Washington Mystics for their last home game until Sept. 4, with the Olympic break. The Fever are in the midst of a West Coast road trip.

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