Los Angeles, CA —To say the Los Angeles Sparks looked sluggish at the beginning of their Sunday afternoon showdown with the Washington Mystics would be an understatement.
Coming off a three-game road trip, the Sparks struggled with attacking on offense and stopping Elena Delle Donne on defense. As the first half wound to a close, they found themselves down by 17 points, their largest deficit of the season.
But with a reinvigorated defensive effort in the second half, combined with a monster third quarter from Candace Parker, the Sparks battled back to extend their winning streak to eight games as they topped the Mystics, 76-69.
In the first half, it was clear the Mystics were doing whatever they wanted on the offensive end. On top of outrebounding the Sparks 20-14, they were outshooting the Sparks from the field 45.5 percent to 36.1 percent.
Washington’s attack game, however, was the biggest difference in the first half. Their consistent attacks in the lane led to plenty of extra opportunities.
In just 20 minutes, the Mystics went 14-of-14 from the free throw line, compared to Los Angeles shooting and making just three free throws.
As the Mystics headed into the locker room, Delle Donne had already wracked up 16 points, double the eight points that Nneka Ogwumike contributed as the leading scorer for Los Angeles.
“We talked a lot during at halftime. They were doing great and we were not. We didn’t have the energy and it wasn’t ‘x and o’ things it was just energy,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said.
But when the Sparks came back out onto the floor in the third quarter, it was clear they were ready to work to erase the deficit. Paramount to that effort was Parker.
At the half, Parker had just six points and six rebounds. As soon as she began to attack in the third, however, it was clear that the Sparks began to find their groove.
It also didn’t hurt that Delle Donne, who picked up her fourth foul with 3:30 to go in the quarter, was the one with the tough assignment of guarding Parker for most of the afternoon.
As Delle Donne sat on the bench, Parker was able to roam the floor more freely and be more physical in the post while also attacking the basket.
Behind Parker’s effort, Los Angeles outscored the Mystics 24-10 in the quarter. She ended the quarter scoring 11 points and grabbing two more boards to pull the Sparks to within three points.
While the Sparks’ offense improved with Parker’s play, their defensive effort was like night and day in the first and second half. After allowing the Mystics to shoot 15-of-22 from the field in the first half, Los Angeles held Washington to just nine field goals on 44 shots in the second half.
“Candace Parker made some really good defensive plays. We got steals, got in transition, we scored, finally got to the free-throw line, we made some shots,” Agler said.
As the fourth quarter began, the Sparks regained control of the lead on an Odyssey Sims three-pointer.
While the game would be tied at various points throughout the fourth, the Sparks would not allow the Mystics to regain their lead.
When all was said and done, Los Angeles held Washington to just 36.4 percent shooting from the floor, and outrebounded Washington 34-32. They also successfully stifled Washington’s attack in the second half, allowing them to get to the free throw line just two more times.
“I joke with our team saying that ‘I rather us be down 17-points than up 17-points’. Just the way in which we attack possessions,” Parker said.
“We knew that we didn’t play very well in the first half but we kept it within distance. We had to get the game within single digits by the fourth quarter and that’s what we did.”
Parker ended the night with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists. Chelsea Gray added 17 points and six boards of her own. Ogwumike and Alana Beard rounded out the Sparks players in double-digits with 15 and 13 points, respectively. Delle Donne led all scorers with 22 points.
“Candace, Alana and Nneka are really our core,” Agler said.
“I would also have to throw Jantel [Lavender] in there too—she’s a big part of that as well. When they all play with a lot of energy everyone feeds off that—including the crowd.”