On Camp Day at Staples Center, the visiting Atlanta Dream gave the Los Angeles Sparks a lesson in rebounding as they beat the Sparks 76-72.
The Dream outrebounded the Sparks 31-25, with Atlanta scoring 18-second chance points on those rebounds, compared to the Sparks' four. The Sparks, however, did outscore the Dream in the paint (42-32), as well as share the ball more (21 assists to the Dream's 12).
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike was happy with the consistency of the team's play despite losing two close back-to-back games.
"I think a lot of times we try to stay aggressive, at times, especially in the home stretch of the game," Ogwumike said. "I think we did a good job of staying aggressive and making good plays on the offense."
Despite losing, all five Sparks players scored in the game, being led by forward Jantel Lavender's 20 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Lavender not only had her eighth double-double in 14 games (tied for 1st in the WNBA), she also passed former Spark Nikki Teasley for third all-time in consecutive games played; Lavender has played 120 consecutive games, dating back to Sept. 3, 2011.
The Dream were led by leading scorer Angel McCoughtry, who had 22 points in the game. This game was her ninth 20-point performance, as well as her 15th consecutive games scoring in double-digits. Forward Anieka Henry had a career-high 16 points to go along with four rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Spark started off the game with a 0-for-5 shooting performance, quickly being outscored 6-0. Sparks guard Kristi Toliver would respond to that by scoring seven of her eight points in the first quarter; one of six Sparks to score in the quarter. The 25-17 score was actually closer than it looked, as the Sparks could not stop McCoughtry from scoring. She scored nine points in the first.
Lavender acknowledged that McCoughtry is a tough player to defend, saying you have to choose between letting her score or defending her and leaving an open teammate.
"We tried to make her play into congestion but obviously she's a great player, so she's going to get some shots," Lavender said. "When she starts facilitating and getting in the lane, that's when it gets hard. We have to draw help and then it's an open layup for someone else."
The Dream would regroup to start the second quarter, going on a 9-2 run in the opening minutes. The game would eventually go into halftime with a 35-35 tie.
The Sparks would come alive in the third quarter, scoring 21 points in the third while keeping McCoughtry to four points. However, the defense couldn't hold as the Dream fought back in the fourth quarter. Even after falling behind as far as 10 points, the Dream managed to bring it to a 72-all tie with 1:46 left.
Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper was proud of his team's ability to hold on and not collapse in the end, like they did in their last game against the New York Liberty; where they had a 10-point lead at halftime, only to see it fade away in the second half.
"Over our last few games, it seems as if we were close in games and we would just fall apart by not playing defense and not scoring," Cooper said. "Today, I tried to encourage them to stay in the last few minutes."
With 29 seconds to go in the game, Dream forward Aneika Henry would score on a layup. The Sparks immediately got the ball to Lavender, who would miss the potential game-tying jumper with two seconds to spare. McCoughtry was fouled on the play, making two final free throws to seal the deal.
Sparks head coach Brian Agler felt bad for Lavender, but acknowledged it was just part of the breaks.
"I feel bad for her, but it was a good shot, and we wanted her to take it," Agler said. "You put people out there and you live with the results. Would we take that shot again? Absolutely."
With the loss, The Spark now have lost five straight and hold claim to the league's worst record at 2-12. The Dream not only snapped a three-game road losing streak, but have moved out of last place in the Eastern Conference; moving ahead of the Washington Mystics with a 7-8 overall record.