Los Angeles, Calif. – The Sparks needed an overtime Saturday night to take down a surging Tulsa Shock, 76-69.
Kristi Toliver lead Los Angeles with 21 points, while Lindsay Harding added 20 and Candace Parker put up 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Glory Johnson lead three Tulsa players in double figures with 17 points.
Sparks coach Carol Ross said it wasn’t their best game, but she also gave credit to the Shock.
“I don’t think we shot well all night,” she said. “We had some play makers who stepped up and made things happen.
“It was hard for us to execute, and you have to give Tulsa a lot of credit. A good defense keeps you from playing your sets and patterns, and that’s what they did tonight. It was just one of those nights.”
The Sparks out shot the visitors in the first half to take a 38-30 lead into the break. But Tulsa began the third quarter on an 8-1 run, topped by a Candice Wiggins bucket, steal and second shot to tie the game at the 7:39 mark. Los Angeles built a five-point lead twice, but the Shock whittled it down to a one-point game by the end of the period.
The battle continued in the fourth quarter, with Tulsa going up by as much as five with 2:27 remaining. With 13.9 seconds to go, Sparks forward Candace Parker was fouled, and she made one of two shots, to tie teh game at 66. Shock rookie point guard Skylar Diggins had a chance to make a bank shot at the buzzer, but she missed, sending the game into overtime.
Los Angeles outscored Tulsa 10-3 in the extra period, as Harding lead the way with six points.
The Sparks are now 2-1, while the Shock has seen three of its five losses happen in overtime. Tulsa is also playing without three key players – Liz Cambage, Tiffany Jackson-Jones and Riquna Williams – who are injured.
Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenberg said the youth of the team is also a factor in their close losses, but he sees progress.
“The silver lining I get out of this game is that we’re battling, we’re competitive with one of the top teams in the league, with a chance to win in regulation,” he said. “I love our competitiveness and mental toughness. We’re growing each game.
“We’ve lost some close games, but when you go through adversity you learn from it. We’re going to take everything back to practice and try to keep getting better each practice.”
Sparks guard Kristi Toliver said the team had lapses on both ends of the floor, but they stepped it up to win.
“We got very lackadaisical offensively and stopped moving the ball, we were standing more,” Toliver said. “Defensively we weren’t making the right rotations. A combination of those things lead to their run, but we were able to find a way to get back in it.
“That’s the thing that we will remember and take away from this game, is that we can find a way to get ourselves out of holes.”
Parker said the win bodes well for the long-term.
“I just know from experience that you want to win these early ones so that later on in the season, when it comes time to get placement for home court, that it’s not like ‘we could have got that one,'” Parker said. “So tonight was definitely a must-win for us, a should-win for us, with them coming off a back-to-back and us coming off of seven days rest.”
One down note for the Sparks was that guard Alana Beard sprained her ankle early in the game. She is listed as day-to-day.
Kloppenberg on Skylar Diggins
“Skylar’s coming along. She’s going against people like Temeka Johnson last night and tonight, Lindsay Harding – two of the better point guards in the league. She’s getting an education by fire. We throw her in there and she played 35 minutes tonight. It’s a totally different game – the college game and the pro game. Learning the nuances on both ends of the floor. The thing we love about her is she’s a competitor, wants to win. She’s going to find a way to win. As she develops experience, she’s going to be an excellent point guard in this league.”
Kloppenberg on Courtney Paris
“We didn’t want to cut her, but then Liz Cambage wanted to come back. She should be in this league somewhere, whether it’s with us or someone else, because she’s really effective.”
Glory Johnson on the Shock stepping up right now
“We try to start out really strong, whether it’s tipoff or after halftime. we try to come out with energy. Knowing that we don’t have everyone healthy, so we have to play as strong as we can with the players we have. Knowing that, we have each other’s back. Some have to step up and play extra minutes, step into roles they’re not comfortable with. I think we’re doing it pretty well, and we’ll get it together.”
Toliver on the Shock
“I feel like Tulsa gets better every year. They get more talent every year with draft picks……the thing that’s always consisent with Tulsa is their will and their fight. They’ve always had that, from their first year until now. I think they’re a playoff team. I think they’ll continue to get better. They’re well-coached. They’ve been through three overtime games, so it’s not like they’re getting their butts kicked. At some point they’ll turn the corner.”
Parker on parity in the league
“It’s always a toss up in the WNBA. You have Chicago, who went from one of the worst teams in the league to now, one of the best. You have Minnesota, who was rolling, and beat the Mercury by a lot. And then they get beat by the Mystics (today). You never know.”
Rapper Common attends Sparks game
The rapper Common attended Saturday night’s Sparks-Shock game, sitting courtside near the Sparks basket. Last November he attended the Notre Dame-UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion, when Shock point guard Skylar Diggins was playing for the Irish.
“I really enjoy women’s basketball, and I like Skylar Diggins,” Common told me.
He said retired Sparks center-turned co-owner Lisa Leslie helped him get tickets.