Los Angeles – It was a game that ran the gamut of emotions, from frustration all the way to triumph in the Sparks seven-point win over the Mystics Sunday.
Candace Parker had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles, while Chelsea Gray scored 17 and Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard added 15 and 13 points, respectively.
The Mystics, seeking to avenge their May 19 loss against the Sparks in the same building, distanced themselves from the hosts early. Benefiting from 10 first quarter points from Elena Delle Donne, Washington closed the first quarter of play with a seven-point advantage, which they stretched to 17 halfway through the second period.
It was all a part of an emotional quarter for Los Angeles. They returned home following a long three-game road trip to the East coast yesterday, and went straight to the gym for a walk-through for Sunday’s match up. With some questionable calls by the referees on both sides of the ball during the game, the body language of the Sparks started to visibly exude displeasure. The frustrations on the court soon found their way to the bench, with coach Brian Agler picking up his first technical foul at 4:47 mark of the second quarter.
“I was not happy,” Agler said. “We talked a lot during at halftime. They were doing great and we were not. We didn’t have the energy and it wasn’t ‘X and O’ things – it was just energy.”
“We were in a tough situation with a 10-day road trip, we flew back in yesterday, we got in a walk through and had an afternoon game; those are always tough, very difficult and very dangerous games.”
That halftime discussion proved the be the difference-maker in the contest, as Los Angeles came out on fire to begin the third period and trimmed Washington’s lead to single-digits six minutes later. Parker’s two free throws to end the quarter got the Sparks within one point.
Both teams traded baskets in the fourth, with former Spark Kristi Toliver tying the game at 69 apiece with three minutes remaining. Los Angeles then found Beard on their next possession, who delivered the dagger as the the team scored the next seven points unanswered.
Parker said she felt challenged to come from behind.
“Honestly, I much rather be down the way that we play,” she said. “It felt really good to be the comeback kid. Every situation teaches you things and you may not learn the lesson until its down the road. Hopefully we won’t be in this situation again where we’re down 17 points, but if we are its about getting stops and possessions one at a time rather than worrying about the score.”
Ogwumike said it took a while for Los Angeles to get in a groove again after their road trip.
“I think our focus needed a little bit more fine-tuning, and we were able to handle that in the second half,” she said. “What’s most important to us is to never give up. We knew that the game was not over after the second half.”
Mystics coach Mike Thibault characterized his team’s loss as a missed opportunity.
“Any type of loss is a terrible loss when you’re trying to beat good teams,” Thibault said. “We played a great first half and the exact opposite in the second half. LA played a really good second half, and we didn’t respond. We shot the ball awfully in the second half, I don’t think we could have shot it much worse. So, I’m not happy about anything, even though there were good parts, I’m not happy at all.”
Delle Donne finished with 22 points, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Ivory Latta each added ten points. Delle Donne said Washington needs to do a better job of closing out games.
“I think when you have a big lead like that in the half and you know you’re going against the defending champs, you still have to come out on the attack,” Delle Donne said. “I feel like we came out (at the half) trying to hold the lead and not advance it. We need to continue to stay aggressive and put four quarters together.”
The schedule will now only get harder for the Sparks, going back on the road to take on the top seeded Minnesota Lynx on Thursday. The Mystics now travel to Phoenix to take on the Mercury Wednesday.