Behind a career-high 24 points from forward Karima Christmas the Tulsa Shock defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 82-67 on Saturday at the BOK Center.
Christmas led the charge for the Shock (11-4) with her tenacity and will to attack the rim, as she earned a game-high 12 trips to the free-throw line. She was the difference maker in a game that was close throughout but blown wide open late in the fourth quarter.
"I just try to be aggressive because coach always tells me always stay aggressive," said Christmas. "At the beginning of the season I wasn't very aggressive. So just being able to find the seams and try to create something when it may look like there may not be something there just try to get to the line and try to get free throws out of it."
Despite statistically dominating the first quarter, the Sparks' early lead was trimmed to 18-17 with an Odyssey Sims two-point shot at the buzzer. Los Angeles (2-11) shot 8-of-14 from the field in the quarter and outrebounded Tulsa, the top rebounding team in the league, 12-9. At times, it seemed as if the Sparks would pull away, but timely shots by Tulsa never let the lead get too large to overcome.
Tulsa kept the momentum of the first quarter's buzzer beater to start the second period on a 6-0 run, giving it its biggest lead of the game early on. Behind the aggressiveness of Christmas, the Shock remained in control throughout the second quarter. Tulsa's defense also began to stifle the Sparks' offense, which in turn the shots that dropped early on simply weren't in the second quarter.
The Shock held a 40-31 lead going into halftime after outscoring the Sparks by 10 in the second quarter. Christmas led the way for Tulsa early on, with 11 points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. For Los Angeles, Nneka Ogwumike was the lone force that kept them in the game during an unimpressive second quarter.
At the half, Ogwumike led all scorers with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field while adding six rebounds.
The biggest disparity in the first half was the Shock's distinct advantage when it came to being aggressive and attacking the basket, which resulted in trips to the charity stripe. Tulsa shot 16-of-17 from the free-throw line in the first half, a big disparity compared to the two free throws Los Angeles shot.
Both teams went back and forth during the third quarter with small runs. The Sparks climbed back within striking distance despite the Shock taking a 12-point lead - their biggest of the game - with a little over a minute left in the quarter.
Ogwukime led the way for the Sparks with 22 total points and 13 rebounds. Jantel Lavender also had a double-double for the Sparks with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Sims, who was playing in her first game since June 9, had 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds. Though she did not shoot well from the field (4-12), Sims never stopped attacking and made an enormous difference in the outcome of the game.
"I didn't expect that many minutes, she played 23 and I was looking at somewhere around 15 or 12," said Tulsa coach Fred Williams. "She is just a competitor and she is going to play and she wants to get out there, I felt she did some really good things in her first game back, and she is still at about 90 percent on the floor and once she gets back in the rhythm in practice a few days and some more games I think she'll step it up even more.
"But just her presence being out there made the opponents a little bit wary of her driving and three point shots."
"It feels great, I'm just happy to be playing again," said Sims.
Overall, the Sparks shot 39.3 percent from the field while the Shock shot a 37.7 clip.