Los Angeles, CA -- The Phoenix Mercury snapped a Los Angeles Sparks two-game win streak Sunday afternoon in an overtime thriller, 94-91. And while, Brittney Griner dunked for the first time this season, the most exciting moment actually came from her 5-foot-5 teammate, Leilani Mitchell.
"It was a play for Brittney inside," said Mitchell. "And then my man helped off, (Griner) did a really good job cutting hard, and they had to double her, obviously, it's a mismatch, they can't really guard her one-on-one, and I was left open. Candice (Dupree) did a good job finding me, glad I was able to make it."
Despite the loss, Los Angeles continue to show significant signs of improvements, as so many different players stepped up.
One of those players, in particular, was Marianna Tolo, who guarded Mercury star Brittney Griner throughout the game.
"My whole mentality for the game was to keep her out of the key, keep her as far away from the basket as possible and just be really physical with her," said Tolo. "Offensively, we attacked them at the start. Because Brittney was helping I was able to get some open jumpers."
Los Angeles was on fire in the first, shooting 61% from the field as a team. The hot shooting of the Sparks was the most Phoenix had allowed in team history for points in the first quarter, 27. Marianna Tolo and Nneka Ogwumike lead the way with eight points apiece.
Despite the long outstretched arms of Griner, Los Angeles continued to attack the basket and finish shots around the rim. Phoenix found themselves down at the end of the first but were lead by DeWanna Bonner’s eight points including two 3-pointers.
In the second quarter Tolo and her teammates were doubling Griner in the post, and Griner was able to find the open man. Ogwumike picked up three fouls, but still continued her tough play, grabbing every rebound in sight.
To the pleasure of the home crowd, Brittney Griner was called for her 3rd foul midway through the second quarter and was forced to sit. Bonner and Candice Dupree led the way combining for over half of Phoenix 42 half-time points.
Los Angeles’s best player in the first half, Ogwumike, outworked her opponents to earn a double-double by intermission, 14 points and ten rebounds.
Kristi Toliver, who has been on an absolute tear recently, was being guarded by the outstretched arms of 6-foot-4 Bonner. She was not as hot as the 43-point effort she poured in during the Sparks previous game, her presence alone had a tremendous impact as she scored six points and dished out five assists.
"She hit some tough shots too," said the three-time sixth woman of the year. "She is a great shooter and she has a great release. It’s still hard to contest it, but I just wanted to make it tough on her. She hit a couple shots on me, so be it."
Phoenix took advantage of a slow start from Los Angeles in the third period, caused by the three turnovers and eight team fouls committed, sending the Mercury to the free throw line early. The Mercury were led by their frontcourt Bonner, Dupree, and Griner.
Bonner took advantage of the attention Griner received by knocking down shot after shot as the defense helped down in the post.
"I just think they were leaving me to double and my teammates just found me in great spots. They said if you’re open, shoot it, so I did. Thank goodness they went in. I’ve got some good teammates here, and they help me out a lot" said Bonner. The score was 65-63 Mercury at the end of the third period.
Erin Phillips, who played one of her best games this season, led the way for Los Angeles in the fourth quarter, knocking down two huge threes. Despite the play of Phillips, four quarters would not be enough to decide the victors of the game. Sparks sent the game into overtime after Griner missed a turnaround shot inside.
Regardless of whom the fans wanted to win, there was no denying Sunday’s game was just great basketball theater -- there were 18 lead changes throughout the game.
However, the Mercury were able to get the final lead change, as they came out with the victory after Leilani Mitchell knocked down a dagger three-point basket in the corner, with just over three seconds remaining in overtime.
"It was an entertaining game, obviously," said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. "As a spectator, I think they really enjoyed that kind of game. As a coach, I just think we didn’t come ready to play. L.A., they are a much-improved team with Kristi out there making all those shots.
"Things were too easy for them at the start, but it was an entertaining game from that spectacle. I was glad we just won it."