(Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA) The L.A. Sparks (3-1), 2017 WNBA Runner-Ups, opened their 2018 season with a hard-earned win over their Western Conference rival, the Phoenix Mercury (2-2). Playing without several key players, center/6-4/Jantel Lavender and 1st Round Draft pick, center/6-4/Maria Vadeeva (from Russia) due to overseas contractural commitments, the Sparks broke from the starting gate slowly, as the Mercury jumped out to an 11-3 lead in the first five minutes.
Then, center/forward, 6-2/Nneka Ogwumike and point guard, 5-11/Chelsea Gray went to work offensively, combining forces to catch the Mercury and tie it at 11-11. In reply to that run, the Mercury went on a spurt with center/6-6/Brittney Griner & power forward/6-5/Sancho Lyttle working inside and out while scoring a string of easy baskets. Add to that, the veteran All-Pro work of guard, and the WNBA’s All-Time leading scorer, 6-0/Diana Taurasi, and the lead was stretched to 15-11. The first quarter, which was very uptempo and “turn-over” prone for both teams, ended in a 21-20 lead for the Mercury. It also marked the welcomed appearance of 5 x All-WNBA 1st team and 4 x All-Star and veteran, Candace Parker, who is nursing a minor back injury.
In the second quarter, at the 6:41 mark, the Sparks went ahead 32-31 on an “And-1” play by Chelsea Gray. But the Mercury’s Sancho Lyttle remained hot and kept the Mercury close. Then, stepping up with her long distance shooting skills, Sparks forward, 6-0/Essence Carson, gave her team some breathing room as she nailed a badly needed 3-pointer in the final mimute of the first half. The halftime score was 52-46, Sparks.
In the third quarter, it was more Essence Carson as she picked up where she left off to start the period, burying another timely 3 pointer. Then, at the 7:14 mark, after a common foul was called on Chelsea Gray, there was some confusion that centered on Mercury teammates, forward, 6-4/DeWanna Bonner who accidentally elbowed Brittney Griner in the face while battling for a rebound. In the recovery time for Griner, double Technical Fouls were assessed to Diana Taurasi and Essence Carson for allowing their tempers to flare a bit. The game resumed after the officials calmed things down. However, this incident may have halted the Sparks momentum as they went cold from the field. The quarter ended with the Mercury taking the lead by a score of 65-62.
The final quarter saw the Sparks re-take the lead at 67-65 when Odyssey Sims, Nekka Ogwumike and Candace Parker began to heat up. As the period wore on, it was the Sparks defense that put the brakes on the Mercury, denying them any further scoring runs. On a bad free-throw shooting night for both teams, it was the Sparks who would benefit more when they managed to hit more of their attempts than their opponent. The Sparks built great momentum down the stretch from the six minute to the two minute mark when third year player, and the game’s leading scorer, Chelsea Gray, along with the newest addition to the Sparks roster, 3 x All-WNBA 1st team and 7 x All-Star, Cappie Pondexter, hit key baskets. In the final 90 seconds, the Sparks would use good shot clock and game clock management to their advantage and took this game by a final score of 80-72.
Game Statline: Chelsea Gray/23 pts/8 assts; Nneka Ogwumike/18 pts/8 Rebs; Odyssey Sims/14 pts/5 rebs; Candace Parker/10 pts/3 rebs/2 assts; Essence Carson/8 pts/2 rebs; and Cappie Pondexter/6 pts/1 reb.
Media Credits: Anthony Ramirez, All Game Photos, East L.A. Sports Scene; Erik Sarni, Post-Game Stills, East L.A. Sports Scene. To follow the Sparks all season, click here.