Los Angeles, CA -- Father’s Day brought high stakes for the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks. Phoenix came into the game looking to avenge its 89-87 loss against Los Angeles last week. The biggest anticipation on the afternoon was Diana Taurasi needed to score 14 points to break Tina Thompson’s WNBA all-time scoring record.
And while Taurasi would set the hallowed record, this would be her team’s night, as the Sparks moved to 8-3, as Phoenix fell to Los Angeles 90-59.
In typical fashion, Candace Parker marked the first score of the game, only 25 seconds in. This would serve as a catalyst for the Sparks, as they scored, and scored, and scored some more.
And before the Mercury could blink, they were trailing the Sparks 17-2. Parker stayed locked in offensively, hitting double digits shortly after with a three-pointer.
Phoenix seemed jumbled offensively, with Taurasi visibly showing her frustration with zero points and two fouls only three and a half minutes in. She was pulled back to the bench after committing another foul two minutes later.
It got so bad for Taurasi, she ended up elbowing Nneka Ogwumike in the back of the head. Los Angeles refused to let up on the Mercury, continuing to relentlessly attack Phoenix into submission. The Sparks finished the first quarter with a season-high 38 points to the Mercury’s 17.
And the second quarter was more of the same, the Sparks led 47-22 with 5:45 remaining in the first half -- their largest lead of the season.
It got so bad, that Taurasi flung the ball into the air in frustration, and it looked for a moment that she would be ejected from the game, but the referees chose not to assess her with a second technical.
However, as the game got closer to intermission, the contest started going a little smoother for the Mercury’s star. Taurasi, who had just turned 35 years old last week, added “all-time WNBA leading scorer” to her extensive list of accolades. With 45 seconds remaining in the first half, Taurasi slashed down the lane, and scored on a layup to secure history.
“It feels good, the last couple of weeks it’s been a little bit of weight on my shoulders. It’s pretty special when you pass Tina (Thompson) in anything. She's been such an amazing player for the WNBA and just for basketball in general, she's such an icon,” Taurasi said.
“When you start thinking about more of the people that you share the court with, the coaches, the teams, I’ve been pretty lucky to be around a lot of great players and coaches. At the end of the day, it’s an opportunity that you have to take advantage of. I’ve gotten that opportunity,” Taurasi concluded.
Although Taurasi made headlines by setting her new record, Phoenix head coach, Sandy Brondello, says it's more than making history that makes her unique.
“People don’t realize but for Diana, it’s not about all the records she's breaking, it’s about the winning and the comradery. That’s really what makes her special. She's all about ‘We’re a team, this is how we’re going to win, as a team… She's so humble, so unselfish, that’s the kind of person she is, on and off the court. Hopefully, she’ll look back and realize what she's done and enjoy it for a few days and keep adding to that tally,” Brondello said.
Reigning league MVP, Nneka Ogwumike, entered the locker room with a perfect offensive stat sheet, hitting 8-of-8 for 16 points. Los Angeles led 56-36.
“We just focus on staying in the moment, winning each quarter, winning each possession, winning each play and that’s how we play for 40 minutes,” Ogwumike said.
The second half began with Los Angeles pressured not to give away their huge lead after doing so in their past two games against the San Antonio Stars and Dallas Wings. They continued to take advantage of Phoenix’s frustrations by turning the Mercury’s 12 turnovers into 20 points, while Phoenix turned the Sparks’ seven turnovers into four points so far.
“Every time Los Angeles and Phoenix play each other like it’s sort of like a rivalry so you expect a physical game. It’s not surprising that both teams played physical,” Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler said.
The scoring gap climbed to 30 points as the Sparks led Phoenix 81-51. The Sparks starters were able to take a break, and take the rest of the game off.
Both teams will be on the road this week, with the Mercury traveling to Seattle for their Friday game and Los Angeles taking on Indiana on Saturday.