Phoenix, AZ — The Los Angeles Sparks started off hot against the Phoenix Mercury, looking to take them down for the second time this season, and keep their hold on the number one spot in the league.
The Sparks kept it tight with a man-to-man defense, which the Mercury struggled to penetrate at first. Excessive fouling set the Sparks back, having seven fouls to the Mercury’s zero. This gave Phoenix the opportunity to strike behind the free throw line, and close on Los Angeles’ initial lead. The quarter ended tight with the Mercury on top 18-16.
“This is the best team in the WNBA and rightfully so, they’re very talented,” Phoenix head coach Sandy Brodsello said of the Sparks. “To hold this team to 66, I thought defensively, we’re at where we need to be at.”
Guard Diana Taurasi led the fight for Phoenix, striking in the first minute of the second period with a three. Her intense defense nearly shut down Sparks star forward Candace Parker. The Mercury went scoreless for nine possessions, letting the number one team close on them to end the half with Phoenix still scraping by, 32-30.
Los Angeles struggled to hold onto the ball, giving up 21 turnovers.
“You can’t turn the ball over, that’s 21 opportunities that we could have had for shots on goal,” Parker said following the game. “So I think it’s taking care of the ball and making smarter decisions.”
The Mercury was able to stifle Sparks’ offense, holding the number one three-point team to zero threes in the first half. Nneka Ogwumike helped Los Angeles stay close, holding Phoenix center Brittney Griner to five points and one rebound at the half.
The Mercury didn’t back down in the second half, Taurasi leading the charge with 19 points five minutes in. The Sparks’ 16 turnovers did not help their struggle to stay with Phoenix, but Parker managed to help keep the game tight, with a team high of 20 points at the end of the third period. The Mercury stayed on top at the end of the third, closing it out 58-52.
“We’re kind of in a funny spot where we know who we are, we just gotta play like it,” said Taurasi after the game. “Today and the last game, it shows the potential of this team. And now we just gotta do it, we have to go out there and play with that type of energy and type of aggression.”
Phoenix kept up the intensity, gaining a nine-point lead, their largest of the game, with six minutes to go. Griner got back in the game with two quick buckets to help the Mercury extend their lead.
The game didn’t end easy for Phoenix, with Los Angeles cutting the Mercury lead to two with a minute to go. The dramatic game ended on a missed three-point attempt that could have given the Sparks the lead in the last 10 seconds. Phoenix took the game 70-66.
“I thought it was a good battle, I thought both teams competed hard,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said after the loss. “We played much better tonight than we did Friday, so I think were moving in the right direction.”
Despite his satisfaction with the effort his team put forward, Agler said a high number of turnovers set them back.
Taurasi owned the court for the Mercury, with 26 points. The loss put the Minnesota Lynx into the top spot over Los Angeles, who have now lost the last four of five games.