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Sparks’ 3rd quarter heroics, ‘defensive intensity’ knocks out Liberty

Candace Parker’s dominance wire-to-wire and a major turning point in the third quarter helped the LA Sparks capture their fourth straight victory since the All-Star break. 

Adam Pantozzi - Getty Images

Los Angeles, CA— On the heels of EA Sports’ announcement earlier this week that their upcoming release of “NBA Live 18” would feature the full roster of WNBA teams and players, Candace Parker’s brilliant play of late has only added to the feeding frenzy that will surely ensue for who gets to suit up as #3 in the purple and gold in the virtual world.

Becoming only the sixth woman in WNBA history to post a triple-double last Friday and posting 24 points tonight, Parker was the anchor Los Angeles relied on all night to subdue a New York Liberty team that matched the Sparks bucket-for-bucket for two quarters. But before “CP3” could leave her signature on this game, the turning point was a seemingly ordinary play midway through the third quarter that proved crucial to the 87-74 Sparks victory.

The lead-up to the captivating third quarter action went like this. The Sparks led 29-23 after the first period only to let that advantage slip in a matter of only one minute and 14 seconds at the start of the second frame. From there, the Liberty went toe-to-toe with Los Angeles thanks to points in transition and a balanced scoring effort. In fact, 10 out of 12 of New York’s available players found the basket at least once in the first half. The score was tied 44-44 at halftime.

In the early stages of the third stanza, the Sparks were unable to create separation. However, the critical play came at the 5:22 mark when Alana Beard stole the ball and found Chelsea Gray for a roar-inducing three-pointer. An ensuing Liberty turnover added salt to the wound for New York, and suddenly Los Angeles held a 54-49 lead with five minutes to play in the third frame.

Determined to test the decibel level that Staples Center could endure, Parker turned it up a notch higher. A “CP3” steal and finish at the rim was followed by an air ball from a clearly rattled Liberty team. Not content to do all of her talking on the offensive end, Parker came up with a deafening block followed by a three-point dagger to hand the Sparks a 10-point lead.

Odyssey Sims, Nneka Ogwumike, and Riquna Williams got in on the onslaught that culminated in an 18-6 Los Angeles run to conclude the third quarter. The Sparks led 69-55 heading into the final stanza.

While Parker dazzled with 24 points and six assists, the Alana Beard steal midway through the third quarter not only catalyzed the Sparks’ play on both ends of the floor but also symbolized an overall increase in defensive intensity as a unit.

“I didn’t really like how we played so much in the second quarter,” said Coach Brian Agler. “So we talked about a couple things at halftime and came out and really played our best quarter defensively in the third.”

Speaking of defense, Los Angeles leads the league in steals per game, yet posted only one in the first half. Those second half adjustments that Coach Agler referenced would lead to nine second-half Liberty turnovers off of six steals.

“I just think our defensive intensity helped us turn it around,” said Sparks guard Chelsea Gray. “We were able to get stops and get out in transition and push the tempo. Once we got stops, we were able to get what we wanted on offense. I think it really showed there in the third quarter.”

One of the most striking aspects of tonight’s game was the double-take inducing stat line for Tina Charles. Due mostly to early foul trouble, the Sparks were able to hold her scoreless to the 6:31 mark of the second quarter. Charles would finish the game with a modest 10 points and three rebounds.

“We have a lot more to prove,” said a frustrated Charles. “We are a lot better team than what we’ve been showing lately. We just have to learn how to close out games, but as long as we stay together, I’m optimistic.”

Another Sparks player who really stood out tonight was Odyssey Sims, a recent addition to the starting lineup. She ferociously attacked the rim and showed off her range to the tune of 20 points, which marks her second 20+ point performance in her last three games.

“Especially in the second half, she attacked the rim, she finished well, she got to the free throw line,” said Coach Agler. “She’s a really good on-ball defender so I think with her in the starting lineup, it’s helped us. It’s quickened the pace up for us.”

Los Angeles now hits the road to take on Dallas at 4:30 pm ET on Sunday while New York finally gets a reprieve from the road. They take on the Indiana Fever at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday at 7 pm ET.