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Inspired by championship rings, LA lights up Mystics

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Moments before Friday’s game between Los Angeles and Washington started, the Sparks received their championship rings for last season’s title. With emotions of happiness in the air, that’s all the defending champs needed to get off to a quick start.

Adam Pantozz - Getty Images

Los Angeles, CA — Friday night the 2017 season continued with a match-up between the Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics. Both teams were coming off wins, but the Sparks had the slight advantage due to playing at home, although it wasn’t just a normal home game.

Moments before tip-off, last year’s Sparks team received their championship rings, including new Mystics star, Kristi Toliver. Emotions were high at the Staple Center as each member was announced one-by-one to greet league President Lisa Borders at halfcourt, who then gave them their ring.

Back from her overseas commitment, Candace Parker hit her first shot of the 2017 season, as she put her team on the score board immediately. However, Washington did not take long to respond as Elena Delle Donne and Tayler Hill scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Mystics a 5-2 lead.

It was the Sparks’ Essence Carson who tied the score at 5-5 after a jump shot and free throw. Los Angeles continued their momentum, specifically Chelsea Gray who contributed eight points in the first quarter.

With both teams loaded with offensive weapons, the game went back and forth early Friday night. After reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike made a triple with 1.6 seconds left in the opening quarter, Los Angeles had a 12-point advantage, 34-22.

Much of the second stanza looked like the first as Washington and Los Angeles traded baskets once again. Thankfully for the Mystics, Delle Donne continued to shoot the ball well as she tallied 15 points in the quarter. Despite her hot shooting, she wasn’t the star of the period: Los Angeles’ rookie and first round pick Sydney Wiese was.

Wiese was literally a spark for Los Angeles in the first and second periods. She immediately made an impact on the court for the defending champs. The rookie took seven shots in the first half, making each one of them – including going 5-for-5 from behind the arc. The Staple Center erupted each basket she made as Wiese scored 19 points before intermission.

Even with Wiese going off, Washington did not stay quiet nor let Los Angeles build too big of a lead on them. The Mystics’ starting guard Hill banked in a floater just seconds before the halftime buzzer went off to cut her team’s deficit down to only 11, 59-48. Washington remained hopeful and kept up with Los Angeles.

Coming out of the locker rooms, Parker got things going for Los Angeles on both sides of the ball as she blocked Hill’s shot, then drilled a three-pointer on the other end of the court. As the third continued momentum swung even further in favor of the Sparks as they opened up a 19-point lead on the Mystics, 70-51.

It seemed as though hope for Washington was starting to dwindle, but with plenty of time left, they woke up.

Behind the solid play of Delle Donne and Hill, the Mystics would not give up as their fight kept them in the game. Teammates Tianna Hawkins and Ivory late both scored in the final minute of the period, along with Hill to close the gap even more. After being down by as many as 21 in the game, Washington found itself only down eight going into the final stanza.

The fight in the Mystics was very evident however, after a grueling battle, the Sparks were able to hold onto their lead for the win, 95-85.

“It’s obviously difficult coming in, second game of the season, playing the defending champs, but I felt like there were some really good spurts and moments where we were really able to compete and moments where we could handle the pressure. We’re a new team, we’re still working on a lot and I think there are a lot of great takeaways from tonight,” stated Delle Donne after the loss.

As for Parker, the ring she received Friday night with her teammates was welcomed – and celebrated – but her focus remains on the journey for the Sparks.

“I think throughout my career I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily the reward at the end, it’s the journey. Last year we really focused on the journey and appreciating everyday, getting better everyday. Going through the ups and downs together. I think everyone wants to focus on the ups.

Last year we didn’t worry about the results, we worried about doing things the right way.”

Washington will continue its trip out west as they head north to face Seattle on Sunday at 4 pm PT. Los Angeles will have a few days off and return to the court Wednesday, May 24th as they head to Indiana.