The Los Angeles Sparks entered the game against the Connecticut Sun Sunday holding a 12-game winning streak against their opponent at the Staples Center. However, they were also outscored 131-73 in the second half of their last three meetings -- all losses -- prior to this match, and the same scene happened as they failed to sustain a strong start, losing 76-68.
Aside from the absence of Nneka Ogwumike who was day-to-day, Los Angeles did not have Alana Beard, Erin Phillips, and Kristi Toliver in the match and had to rely on the savvy quarterbacking of Temeka Johnson.
Johnson was only averaging 3.7 PPG and 5.0 APG in her first three games, and personally did a terrific job as a facilitator of the Sparks, showing aggressiveness in driving to the hoop, while also creating scoring opportunities for her teammates.
Johnson scored or assisted 17 of Los Angeles' 26 first-quarter points as the home side took a 26-18 lead. Later on, it was Farhiya Abdi, who scored a pair of baskets in the second quarter off the dribble to extend the Sparks lead to 40-30 entering the break.
But the splendid showing in the first 20 minutes disappeared in the second half as fatigue took the energy out of the short-handed Sparks. Connecticut also turned up the heat defensively, generating baskets in transition off Sparks turnovers.
Alex Bentley, Camille Little, and Chelsea Gray accounted for 9 of Connecticut's 12 steals even as Los Angeles turned the ball over 16 times. The Sun capitalized on this setback and the double-digit Sparks lead evaporated in the third.
In the final quarter, Bentley took over, showing why she is one of the best combo guards in the league. Bentley beat her opponents off the dribble or took pull-up jumpers off ball screens, and finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. In addition, she was also a plus-10 on the floor.
Gray provided ample support off the bench, scoring all of her 11 points in the second half to help propel the Sun to their sixth straight victory in the season. Connecticut stayed atop the Eastern Conference team standings, getting the job done on both ends of the floor.
Johnson paced Los Angeles with season-highs of 15 points and 10 assists, accounting for more than half of the team's total output. Jantel Lavender finished with 17 points and 10 boards while Abdi added 12 points, but outside of the three, no other Sparks member stepped up as the squad continued to struggle minus its key players.