It was another close contest between Tulsa and Los Angeles, but the Sparks came out on top for the season sweep after their 92-87 win on Saturday. The "typical" result for the Shock was anything but typical considering they overcame a 15-point first half deficit to get the game within three with just over a minute remaining, won the battle of the boards and didn't have the usual 3rd quarter meltdown. The 5,719 fans in attendance until the final buzzer sounded sure got a second half show.
The Shock defense was glaringly missing for a large portion of the game and can be obviously seen when looking at the box score. The Sparks shot 54 percent from the field, with Tina Thompson scoring 24, DeLisha Milton-Jones adding 20 and Noelle Quinn chipping in 19. Marie Ferdinand-Harris also reached double-digits with 10 points on the night. This marks just the second game this season in which the Candace Parker-less Sparks have topped the 90-point mark.
For Tulsa, Ivory Latta was yet again the scoring leader, grabbing 26 points and a Shock record for most points scored by a Tulsa player this season, breaking her own previous high of 23. Nicole Ohlde, playing the vast majority of the game after Chante Black injured her thumb, added 16 points and three blocked shots of her own. Sharpshooting Shanna Crossley chipped in 13 points, nine of which came from beyond the arc.
But the keys to the oh so close game for the home team came in the form of unlikely sources.
Tiffany Jackson's double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, her first in a Shock uniform, was the "spark plug", according to head coach Nolan Richardson. A career-high rebounding night to give the Shock the 34-27 edge, and rectified a general point of contention for the team.
"To me the warrior of the game was Tiffany Jackson, she's what we've got to have," Richardson praised the forward. "You get those kind of players on your team; she guarded people, she rebounded, she scored tough baskets, she was to me the spark plug that brought us back in giving us a chance."
Jackson almost posted her double-double solely in the second half, going for nine points and 10 boards after the break.
"He really just got after us at halftime, just told us we needed to do a lot better. You know, maybe a few more words here and there," Jackson remarked. "We just - I just really wanted to bring some energy to the game. I felt like we were dead coming off that back to back and just hopefully the team would feed off my energy."
Another unlikely source of energy was in the empowered play by rookie Marion Jones, who started the second half and played almost 12 minutes in the game.
"Well, I brought in Jones and it looks like she did what I had asked everybody to do, is bring some spark to the team," Richardson noted to begin his post game remarks.
He went on to speak yet again to the difficulty of the travel schedule the Shock have been dealing with this season as they just finished off their sixth back-to-back trip on their schedule.
"I realize that we got in this morning at 11:30, I realize that we got up at four o'clock, four-thirty for a flight to get in here and try and play a basketball game against a team that's already been here and practicing in our facility and waiting for us to come home," said Richardson. "So when you play like that, you've got to play with pride and you may not have the energy to play, but Marion Jones ... had probably a little bit more legs than the rest of the girls."
Before the game, Jones joked about her limited playing time this season, as she has played a total of 244 minutes this season, averaging eight minutes a game.
"If you have spent any time and you watch the last two minutes of the forty minute game and you see me out there you see more than [a gimmick]," Marion laughed. "Okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but you see that there are some signs that I can still play, that I'm competitive."
Last night was another one of those times to see Jones get serious minutes and play quality basketball. Jones finished with five points and two rebounds, but also got to the line late in the game when the game was tight after a drive to the basket. And she played her typical stingy defense, interrupting the passing lanes and creating turnovers with her pressure.
One thing Jones isn't joking about is her dedication to honing her game and gaining more opportunities on the court.
"I can certainly see myself reaching my potential with the opportunity to play and kind of work on things and not be so limited in my time on the court. It is what it is, but I know I'll be able to grow as a player having the ability to just play more."
Assistant coach Wayne Stehlik said what many in the arena were thinking as they left a little disappointed.
"Tonight - it's a moral victory. Again today it's loss number 26 now ... but that record that we'll finish with is unacceptable to us, it's not our standard. Our standard is a lot more wins and a few losses, but we know that when we get this thing turned those victories will taste pretty sweet next year."