Sparks step up in third quarter to dominate Liberty, 87-74

Chelsea Gray passes out of traffic. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Chelsea Gray passes out of traffic. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Sparks’ dominating play in the third quarter propelled them past the New York Liberty Friday, 87-74.

Candace Parker led four Sparks players in double figures with 24 points, while Odyssey Sims added 20, Nneka Ogwumike, 17 and Chelsea Gray, 11. Los Angeles is a perfect 4-0 since the All-Star break and are second in league standings, which is three games ahead of the third-place Connecticut Sun.

Parker and Ogwumike combined for 15 points in the third period as the Sparks outscored New York, 25-11, and gave them a 69-55 cushion heading into the game’s final 10 minutes. Los Angeles held all five Liberty starters scoreless in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on a game that had started close and was tied 44 at halftime.

The only major statistical difference between the teams were turnovers: the Sparks had seven, while New York committed 14. Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said his team’s ability to score off those turnovers was one of the difference-makers of the game.

“We took care of the ball,” he said of the Sparks’ turnovers. “In the second quarter when we were not playing as well as we liked, we did not have a high volume of turnovers. It is important to get shots on the ball, and New York is a very good defensive team. We were happy with the way we were able to handle the basketball.”

Odyssey Sims drives for two of her 20 points on the night. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Odyssey Sims drives for two of her 20 points on the night. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Agler characterized the second quarter as chaotic, and he challenged the team at halftime to step up on defense.

“We played without question our best defensive quarter in the third quarter. It helped our offense as well,” Agler said. “We were able to get some shots and our execution was better. I told them for us to beat good teams, win a series in a playoff or even be in the position to win a championship we cannot play how we did in the second quarter at either end.”

Last year Los Angeles finished the season in second place and earned a first-round playoffs bye – a goal Agler said the team is striving toward once again.

“We’re getting to that point in the season, with the new playoff format, where every game is important, and we’re pushing to get one of those top two seeds,” he said.

Bria Hartley paced New York with 16 points, and Tina Charles had 10 points – six of which she scored in the third quarter. Charles said their excessive turnovers in the third period did them in.

“Bria Hartley did great to (speed up) the tempo, and I think we just we persevered through in the first half,” Charles said. “I think (our) turnovers in the third quarter that hurt us a bunch and they capitalized on it, and they gained a lot of momentum, had their crown behind them. Kudos to them, they played a great second half.”

“I think the momentum just went their way, capitalizing on our turnovers. That really deflated us. I think the second unit, the bench came in and gave them great minutes and played hard.”

The Liberty is now 12-12 and sixth in league standings.

The Sparks celebrate their lead late in the game. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
The Sparks celebrate their lead late in the game. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Sparks guard Essence Carson was injured just before All-Star break, and remains out. Sims has taken her place in the starting lineup, and Agler said it’s made a difference for the team, as has increasing the minutes of reserve forward Jantel Lavender.

“Odyssey’s a dynamic player, she makes things happen,” he said. “She’s a really good on-ball defender. Having her in the starting lineup has really picked up the pace for us.”

Los Angeles players say they’ve stepped up their defense the last two weeks and are adjusting to the new lineup.

“As a team, we’ve really been focusing on defense and getting stops – not so much one-on-one but playing off of each other,” Ogwumike said. “We saw a lot of that in the second half today. Offensively we’re still working out some kinks, because we’re getting more people contributing and more minutes from different people. That chemistry is still happening, but as you can see, we have great play from Riquna (Williams) and Odyssey.”

Ogwumike said during the first half of the season, the team’s veteran core was taking the lead. Now there is more cohesion.

“Now we’re incorporating everybody, and now everybody’s able to play well,” Ogwumike said. “So we’re beginning a new surge.”

Parker has stood out recently for both her scoring and her assists. She is tied for seventh in the league in assists – the only forward in the top 13 on the list. Last week she notched the sixth triple-double in WNBA history, which included 11 assists. Gray said her statistics are a testament to her greatness as a player.

“People sometimes forget what a great passer Candace is,” Gray said. “We have a great catcher in Nneka, and Candace is able to see the floor and get the ball to the right people.”

“That’s hard to guard when you have a four or a five doing that. It puts pressure on the opponent’s defense, and that’s a testament to the type of player Candace is. She attracts so much attention and she’s still able to contribute so much, so aggressively.”

The Sparks now embark on a two-week road trip.