LOS ANGELES, CA — It was a thrilling come-from-behind victory at the Staples Center Tuesday, as the Los Angeles Sparks delivered a second loss to the Dallas Wings, 89-84, to remain in first place with the league's best record. Candace Parker's dominating third and fourth quarter performance, propelled the Sparks to an electrifying, hard-fought win.
This is the second match-up between the Sparks and Wings. On June 11, Los Angeles delivered a crushing loss to Dallas on the road, led by Nneka Ogwumike's perfect performance. She set a WNBA record for most field goal attempts without a miss at 12-12 with 7-7 from behind the arc.
It was evident from the start that the Wings had one thing on their mind: revenge. Dallas reminded Los Angeles early why it holds the record for the second-best offense in the league (86.8 points per game).
Skylar Diggins set the tone for her team with an and-one on the first possession. She reached double digits within the first five minutes of the game, and ended the quarter with 13 points.
The Sparks were forced to call a timeout at the four-minute mark, but seemed unable to reap anything of value from it, ending the quarter behind, 29-17.
Kristi Toliver led the boards for Los Angeles in the first quarter with a pair of explosive three-pointers and a jumper. Parker played an aggressive quarter, but only put up four points on layups.
Ana Dabovic proved to be a brief bright spot off the bench to begin the second quarter, grabbing a quick four points and one at the line.
What followed was a chaotic, scoreless couple minutes for the Sparks, who missed several easy points on open looks and second-chance shots. Parker's floater briefly interrupted the drought, but Los Angeles could not seem to find its rhythm. It was forced again to call another mid-quarter timeout.
Whatever was said during the timeout seemed to (very) briefly ignite the Sparks, specifically Ogwumike who had been unusually quiet thus far with three points, mainly due to foul trouble sidelining her. She immediately notched a field goal, then a rebound down the court, which turned into a layup by Jantel Lavender.
Now it was Dallas' turn to call a timeout, refusing to let the potent Los Angeles offense catch fire. Its plan worked.
What followed was another lackluster and disorganized couple of minutes for the Sparks. The Wings capitalized to earn their largest lead of the game at 19 points ahead.
The Wings closed out the half on top, 53-34. Diggins remained far ahead of anyone else with 17 points to end the half, followed by Plenette Pierson's 10.
Toliver led the Sparks with eight points, followed by Parker's six.
"Coach had us watch film at halftime from the first half, and it was terrible watching how lazy we were, how uninterested we were, and how we weren't trusting or helping each other," Parker said.
Sparks head coach Brian Agler said he usually does not show game film during halftime, but felt that it was his last resort after failed attempts to get through to his players during the first half timeouts. He wanted to let them see for themselves.
"I was pretty intense, trying to call them out and get some kind of reaction, and that didn't work. So during halftime I didn't really say anything. We just watched the first five minutes of the game," Agler said. "I asked Kristi and Nneka what they thought, and they were very good in their analysis.
So I said, ‘let's make these changes and go!' And it took us four or five minutes, but there was a group there that really got it going. You gotta learn by seeing, and that's what we did," he said.
Ogwumike established her second quarter presence with a layup to open the second half. Three consecutive Los Angeles fouls then abruptly ended the momentum that seemed to be building.
And like a broken record, the Sparks were forced to call yet another mid-quarter timeout after a Wings run.
Los Angeles then put up a quick six points, and, again, Dallas checked that with its own timeout.
Chelsea Gray lit the fire for the Sparks with a dominating block, allowing Lavender to make a fast break layup. Essence Carson followed with an explosive three-pointer.
Dallas briefly answered, but Parker picked up two at the line, followed by a coast-to-coast to close out the quarter, foreshadowing what was to come.
The Sparks bridged the gap and entered the fourth quarter down by eight points, their least since the first minute of play.
Gray hit the floor at the beginning of the play, following a collision with Erin Phillips. The play was reviewed for a potential hostile act, but Phillips was ultimately charged with no foul. Gray left the game bleeding from her eye.
Parker and Carson avenged Gray's knockdown with three consecutive layups and a jumper, respectively, bringing the deficit to only two points.
Phillips had something to say about it, too, and answered with a three-pointer.
Carson and Toliver then took charge, tying the game for the first time. Parker gave the Sparks their first lead with a point from the line with five minutes to go in the game.
Just as Los Angeles found its familiar chemistry, Dallas' seemed to crumble. The Sparks returned to its dominating style of play, and proved just how much they belong in the first place position.
The remainder of the fourth quarter belonged to Parker. The come-from-behind victory was
led by her game-high 31 points, 17 of which came in the final 10 minutes. She ended the game with 13 rebounds and seven assists, as well.
"Candace willed this team back into the game, and several players got us over the hump," Agler said. "She probably played one of her better halves of basketball since she's been here. I can't imagine anybody playing better than she did in the second half."
Her influence on the team was immense tonight," he said.
Following Parker, Carson finished with 17 points, and remained a steady strong spot for her team throughout the game.
"I've been through a lot of adversity in life. And the way I look at it is that you keep a level head and keep fighting, no matter what," she said. "The day you give up is the day it's all over. This applies to the game of basketball, as well. I'm a fighter, and there are 11 other women who are fighters, too. Everybody saw that tonight."
Diggins' effort should not go unnoticed, as she put up 29 of the Wings' points. She gave no excuses for her teams defeat.
"We know that they are one of the best teams in the league, so we knew in the first half that no lead is really safe on this team," Diggins said. "We were the aggressors on offense and defense in the first half, and then it flipped. You have to give them credit."
The basketball world is mourning the loss of legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. Both Parker and Dallas' Glory Johnson, played under Summitt as Lady Vols. The Sparks honored the late Pat Summitt with orange shoelaces tonight. The Staples Center crowd was awash in orange, as well.
The loss was emotional for Parker, who expressed how much of an impact Summitt had on her.
"It was a tremendous loss today. For myself, away from basketball, just as a mother figure and as a legend in the sport, as well," Parker said. "She's meant a lot to this game, but she's meant a lot to us as individuals, as well.
"When she first got diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I called her and I was crying on the phone, and I remember her saying, ‘Don't throw a pity party because you're going to be the only one there.'" Parker went on. "That's just who she is. That's her attitude. Life's going to hand you whatever, and you're in control of how you deal with it."
Carson echoed Parker's thoughts, and noted how the team was supporting her through this difficult time.
"It was a tough night for Candace and Coach Tonya Edwards coming from the Lady Vol program, and we just wanted them to know that even in adversity, whether its off the court or on the court when we're down 22, we have each other's back," she said.
The Sparks remain in first place and extend its league-high record to 14-1. They tie the Houston Comets (out of play since 2008) for the best record throughout the first 15 games in WNBA history.