The L.A. Sparks have been one of the most frustrating teams to watch during the 2014 WNBA season: for all the talent they have, they just can't seem to maximize their strengths or mask their glaring weaknesses enough to win games consistently.
And today's 94-89 loss to the red hot Phoenix Mercury was no different.
The L.A. Sparks squandered a five point lead with 5:37 left as the Phoenix Mercury hit four threes down the stretch to set up a dramatic finish capped off by the great Diana Taurasi.
Sparks guard Kristi Toliver threw the ball out of bounds after a timeout with the Sparks down one with 31 seconds left. With a chance to extend the lead, Taurasi hit a 28-foot 3-point dagger with 8 seconds left in the game and the shot clock winding down to put an exclamation point on a season-high 32 point performance on ESPN2. It was the high point of a 7-0 game-ending run for the Mercury that secured a league-best seventh straight win for the Mercury, who now maintain the league's best record (13-3).
The Mercury's final push came after the Sparks seemed to find a rhythm during a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter that helped them first establish their game-high five point lead with 6:30 left in the game, culminating with Candace Parker hitting a shot clock-beating three on offense then hustling back on the defensive end to block a shot by DeWanna Bonner out of bounds much to the amusement of her teammates and Staples Center fans.
Less than a minute later, 6-foot-8 Mercury center Brittney Griner silenced the crowd with a one-handed dunk off a drop step to stall the momentum.
Brittney Griner with an in game dunk on the LA Sparks https://t.co/vILQXkYV2n— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) July 6, 2014
And despite a series of dramatic shots in a see-saw finish, it was Taurasi that ended up having the final laugh.
The three point shooting that the Mercury showed in the final five minutes of the game was ultimately the Sparks' downfall. The visiting Mercury shot 10-for-15 (66.7%) from the 3-point line, including a 7-for-10 performance from beyond the arc for Taurasi. Even with an uncharacteristically hot 7-for-10 three point performance from the Sparks led by Kristi Tolivers 5 threes, they simply couldn't keep up with the Mercury's scoring efficiency when it counted.
Defensively, Griner was a force as usual with four blocks but the Sparks bailed the Mercury out with a number of long jumpers instead of attacking the basket.
Parker ultimately finished with a well-rounded 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists while Toliver added 26 points and some clutch shooting down the stretch. But the Mercury's balance - all five starters were in double-figures - and hot shooting from around the court was simply too much for a Sparks team that is still searching for answers.