Kristi Toliver returned to the Sparks roster, after a tour of duty with the Slovakian national team; that competed in the 2015 EuroBasket Women. And the explosive guard brought back to the table what the Sparks have been missing: firepower.
Toliver exploded for 30 points, a new career-high, on 9-for-15 shooting overall and a perfect 9-for-9 from the stripe. She was relentless on offense, scoring in an array of ways like driving to the basket, pulling up off ball screens, or simply spotting up for triples, which even merited a Steph Curry comparison from Ros Gold-Onwude.
With her presence and Nneka Ogwumike starting to recover and play at a high level, the Sparks were able to fight toe to toe although the team eventually collapsed in the end as the Liberty's unselfish ball spelled the difference in the ball game.
Tina Charles provided an impressive back-to-basket game for the Liberty. She was able to operate and drain shots from point-blank range, she also did an excellent job of distributing the leather should the defense collapse. Charles had 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists in the match.
Then Sugar Rodgers, the third player out of Georgetown, played the best game of her WNBA career by scoring 23 points on 3-for-6 from three-point area and was a plus-9 on the floor.
Rodgers' aggressiveness paid dividends for the Liberty, which kept confusing the Sparks' defense by attacking the basket repeatedly and generating open looks for her teammates. Tanisha Wright added 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in the win. Together, Rodgers and Wright combined for 10 of the Liberty's 23 assists on 29 field goal makes.
With the game tied at 63 apiece in the fourth, the Liberty answered with four baskets that were all assisted. First was triple from Rodgers off a penetration then kick-out from Wright.
Next was a feed from Wright to the diving Charles after a pick and roll. Charles once again scored after getting position in the post and sealing her defender for a jumper.
Kiah Stokes capped what was an 11-3 run for the Liberty which made it 74-66. Wright assisted all five baskets after the deadlock, and the home side survived.
Jantel Lavender had 14 points and 6 boards, but was a minus-8. Ogwumike added 13 points and 16 rebounds although went 2-for-12 from the field. Marianna Tolo was scoreless and minus-9.
With Ogwumike back, we are seeing shades of a three-big unit on the floor for the Sparks. Although it looked tentative, and some players looked lost on offense when it comes to spacing. While we love the fact that all those bigs can occasionally hit from mid-range, they are sacrificing a considerable amount of space.
In fact, when Los Angeles tied the match at 63, it was when the team was using a unit with Jennifer Lacy at the three which spread the defense.
The Liberty improved to 5-4 while the Sparks' woes continued as the team dropped to 0-7, although expect them to rise with their key components returning one by one.