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Mystics succumb to complacency, Sparks’ ‘great leadership’

Trailing by 17 at halftime, Los Angeles’ potent third quarter and veteran leadership helped them stave off a physical Washington Mystics team.

Juan Ocampo - Getty Images

Los Angeles, CA — Looking dangerously close to suffering their first loss at home this season, the Los Angeles Sparks mounted a massive comeback, ensuring that Nneka Ogwumike’s birthday would be all smiles. Having been dominated on both ends of the floor in the first half, the Sparks brought Staples Center to a deafening roar in the second half, to steal a dramatic 76-69 victory.

Entering today’s matchup, the Washington Mystics’ 10-5 record, three-game winning streak, and size to go toe to toe with Los Angeles, indeed suggested they had the tools to pull off what no team had been able to do this year — win on the Sparks’ home floor. However, an aggressive, game-changing third quarter performance from Los Angeles that was catalyzed by veteran leadership proved to be the difference-maker.

It was all Washington early, and Elena Delle Donne was the star of the show. She posted 10 points in the first frame and was all over the place on both ends of the floor. Ogwumike kept the Sparks in it, accounting for seven of their 18 first quarter points. Washington held a 24-17 lead after the first period.

In the second quarter, the Mystics proved that in addition to being a turnover-inducing machine, they are masters of robbing opponents of composure. An irate Brian Agler was given a technical at the 4:47 mark of the frame. Insult was added to injury when Delle Donne came up with an imposing block followed by a basket to put her Mystics up by 17, their largest lead of the night.

Los Angeles admirably responded with a 7-0 run off an Alana Beard triple and back-to-back buckets inside from Candace Parker, but every Sparks attempt to get a foothold was met with rejection by a suffocating Mystics’ defense. Added to the Sparks’ rough first half was an anemic 1-of-7 mark from three-point range. Washington took a commanding 47-30 lead at halftime.

But little did the Staples Center know, their Los Angeles Sparks had quite a bit left in the tank. According to head coach Brian Agler, the third quarter was the source of the momentum shift.

“We didn’t have the energy. It wasn’t X’s and O’s things; it was energy…Fortunately for us, we’ve got great leadership, found some energy, made some plays, and we found some momentum.”

But before they could complete the unthinkable, Parker made it clear that their only focus was on chipping away at the deficit and getting it down to eight. The Sparks did just that by aggressively attacking the rim in the third quarter and showing a renewed ferocity on the glass.

Riquna Williams’ back-to-back three-pointers at the 4:58 mark sparked a Los Angeles offense that would not look back. Parker got in on the three-point deluge and would account for nine straight Sparks points to end the third stanza. Most importantly, the Sparks had turned it around on the defensive end and were getting stops. It culminated in Washington’s lead shrinking to 57-56 at the close of the third frame.

“Alana, Nneka, Candace, and Jantel Lavender, those four really are the core,” Coach Agler stated on his veteran’s ability to turn the game around in the third. “When they play with energy, everyone really feeds off that, including the crowd. They were making plays defensively.”

After hitting only one three-pointer in the first half, Los Angeles proceeded to torch the Mystics for seven in the second half. The fourth quarter was characterized by the Sparks’ physicality on the boards and standout playmaking from the likes of Beard and Ogwumike. With the win, Los Angeles extends their winning streak to eight and remains a perfect 7-0 at home.

“It’s our poise. I joke with our team because I’d rather us be down by 17 than up by 17,” said Parker after the game. “Just the way we attacked each possession. We knew we didn’t play very well in the first half, but we kept it within striking distance.”

In a heartbreaking result for a Mystics team so close to attaining a serious resume-boosting win, Delle Donne shined. With her 22 points, she posted her ninth 20+ point performance along with five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. With both teams facing challenging stretches of their seasons, Delle Donne made it clear they have to learn from this result.

“I think we stopped attacking and got complacent with the lead. Just trying to hold onto it instead of continuing to attack. Obviously, when they came out their guards were knocking down shots, they were very aggressive. But continuing to attack when we’re up by that many points is a big thing for us moving forward.”

Los Angeles now heads for a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals when they take on the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday at 8 pm ET on ESPN while Washington’s road trip continues as they’ll face the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday at 10 pm ET.