(Los Angeles, CA-Staples Center)–Game Preview: This Western Conference game carried a lot of importance regarding the seeding for the fast approaching playoffs. The Mercury, led by the trio of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Dewanna Bonner came into the contest with a (16-12) record. The Sparks, led by their Fab 4, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray, and Alana Beard entered with a (16-11) record and were coming off their huge win over the Minnesota Lynx just days earlier. A big time play-off game intensity was highly expected from the fans and the teams.
Game Theme: #We Are Women: A Celebration of Women Excelling In All Walks of Life –All4Her
Game Recap: 1st qtr—Nneka Ogwumike & Chelsea Gray were on target from the get-go. The Sparks ran out to a (14-8) lead with 3:25 left. However, the Mercury were patient on offense and gradually closed the 6 point gap to 2 at (18-16). With :19.o seconds remaining, Sparks 3-point specialist, Riquna Williams, then hit a “buzzer-beater” jumper from just in front of her bench, ending the 1st period with a 4 point lead at (20-16).
2nd qtr—Jantel Lavender kept the scoring doors open with a 3-pointer. After a stop, Odyssey Sims then was fouled in the key on a 3′ floater, (24-16) Sparks. Guard play was steady as Riquna Williams then scored again on a lay-up and was fouled in the act. She hit her free throw, making it (26-16). With 6:45 Chelsea Gray hit a lay-up (28-18) and kept the offensive momentum nicely in gear. Not to mention Alana Beard’s defense was intense on her 4 star match-up with the WNBA’s All-time leading scorer, Diana Taurasi, who was still scoreless at that time. CP3 then got an assist when she delivered a bounce pass to a wide-open Nneka Ogwumike who drained a jumper from 18′ out. Time-out, Phoenix at 6:00. Of Significance..Diana Taurasi removed from the game due to 4 personal fouls in the half. Of Greater Significance…with 5:14 left in the half, Candace Parker’s made free throw gave her 5,000 career points. The sell-out crowd and loyal fans gave her a resounding applause. On the next possession, Odyssey Sims’ beautiful upper-level lob pass to CP3 was picture-perfect as she laid it in for a basket, (35-18). Essence Carson then hit a 3-ball from the left corner pocket, (38-23), moving it to a 15 point lead with 2:40 in the half. TV time-out taken…(38-26) with 2 minutes left. Next, as time ran down in the half, Maria Vadeeva ran the court and was rewarded with a great finishing pass for a lay-up, (40-26). Brittney Griner hit a runner in the lane with :09.0 seconds left to end the 1st half.
HALFTIME SCORE: Sparks 40, Mercury 30.
Celebrity Cam: Found Derek Fisher, former L.A. Laker and 5 x NBA Champion, courtside.
3rd qtr–Ogwumike scored the first basket of period followed by a 3-pointer, as she racked up her 13th point of the game for a (45-30) advantage. Alana Beard contributed a 15′ jumper for their 3rd consecutive possession. After a Phoenix score, CP3 was fouled and hit 2 free throws. Chelsea Gray then whipped a crowd-pleasing bullet pass from the top of the key for a great assist to Sims who was under the basket, (51-37). Ogwumike was fouled on a put-back. Two free throws awarded. Made first, (52-37), with 5:50 left. Stephanie Talbot hit 2 3-pointers, keeping the Mercury still within striking distance. They cut it to 10 with 4:48 left in quarter. Then B. Griner went to work inside hitting 2 easy lay-ins, cutting the lead to just six, (52-46) with 3:45 left. Diana Taurasi, while playing cautiously due to foul trouble, was still a threat as she cut the lead to just 4 at 2:42, with an off-balance left handed lay-up. Chelsea Gray hit another picture-perfect 18′ jump shot from the right side making it (54-48). Carson then drew big applause when she buried a 3-pointer from the left side with 59.0 seconds left, (57-48). Diana Taurasi then answered with a 3 pointer at 33.0 left, (57-51). A Sparks turn-over deprived them of a scoring opportunity to end the period. Fortunately, Phoenix missed an open lay-up.
4th qtr–B. Griner threw up an 8′ hook from baseline to cut the lead to 4. Riquna Williams scored on a put-back, 59-58. Chelsea Gray jumper from the left elbow, (61-58). On a pretty lob pass to CP3 and her subsequent attack to the basket, Taurasi committed a hard foul and Parker dropped to the floor. She recovered quickly and went back to work. Riquna Williams scored on assist from Gray. Then the same player drama reciprocated when Taurasi drove hard to the hoop and drew a questionable foul from CP3. Taurasi also fell to the floor and landed awkwardly, but was okay. She then came back and added a 3-pointer and cut the lead to 1, (63-62). CP3 drew a foul and hit 2 more free throws, (65-62). Gray’s hot hand gave the Sparks a 5 point lead with a nice jump shot. At 4:37 CP3 hit a lay-up, (71-64). Gray stayed hot hitting another jumper from free throw line, (73-66). Phoenix hit a 3 pointer by Briann January. at 2:40. Of Significance..Diana Taurasi fouled out of the game for a charging foul against Gray. just nearly in front of the basket. With 2 minutes to go, it was (73-69), Sparks. A big defensive stop gave the ball back to the Sparks. Time-out Mercury with 1:27 remaining. An after time-out 3-pointer made it (74-72). Then, a Sparks missed shot, time-out called again by Phoenix with :46.1 left. Sparks grabbed rebound with :38 seconds left but failed to score. Time-out taken. Gray then hit the biggest shot of the game, a jumper from straightaway as the shot clock wound down, (76-72). Phoenix called time-out with :17.6 left. After play resumed, Bonner was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Odyssey Sims and she made all 3, (76-75) Sparks, with only :12.8 left. Gray was fouled on in-bound pass and made 2 free throws, (78-75). Bonner then shot an air-ball which went out of bounds, with only 2.4 seconds left. Sparks ran out the clock ending the game. And there was more joy in the Staples Center with this huge win.
Final Score: Sparks 78, Mercury 75. Sparks now (17-11) and head out on a road trip for games on Wednesday vs. New York Liberty, and then on Thursday against the Atlanta Dream. Game Attendance: 19,076 (Sell-out)
Game Noteworthiness: Candace Parker/14 pts/12 rebs/8 assts/1 stl; 10th “Double-Double” of the season; Scored her 5,000th career point in her 10th season/Currently in 20th place with 5,010 total pts; Earned her 2nd WNBA Season “Player of the Week” recognition.
Credits: Photo Gallery #1: Anthony Ramirez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions; Photo Gallery #2: Erik Sarni, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions