Sparks Dominate Depleted Mercury
Coming off a season-worst 34.9 percent from the field against the Seattle Storm, the Sparks outshot the Mercury 45.3 percent to 38.2 percent, with two players posting double-doubles. Nneka Ogwumike recorded her first career double-double tonight and posted career-highs in points and rebounds, with 25 and 12, respectively. Candace Parker recorded her fourth consecutive double-double and fifth of the season to finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Kristi Toliver, who only needed one more assist to hit a double-double, joined Ogwumike and Parker in a strong defensive effort. Together, the powerhouse trio limited the Mercury to 28.6 percent shooting in the first half, while helping to force nine first-half turnovers.
"With every day and practice, and games, we slowly feel like we can understand each other's games and I think it's finally connecting,'' Ogwumike said. "I think we're doing a good job of understanding each other's tendencies.''
After an opening quarter, in which LA struggled to assert its dominance, the team came up strong in the second quarter to extend its lead to 43-28. In the quarter, Parker scored 10 of her 23 points, as the Sparks outscored the Mercury 22-11. LA scored 14 of its 22 second-quarter points in the paint.
The Sparks took their largest lead of 51-29 off a layup by Ogwumike with 7:38 left in the third quarter before losing their footing to commit five turnovers.
“I thought we lost our focus,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “We had a mental lapse and we have to be able to get that killer instinct and not have those moments.”
The Mercury powered through the third to reduce their 22-point deficit to nine, 66-57. The team took advantage of five Sparks turnovers, with Phoenix high scorer Charde Houston scoring 10 of her 22 points in the quarter. The fifth-year pro sank a pair of three-pointers with under four minutes left in the third and Candice Dupree added seven points, making a layup and jumper with 1:15 remaining.
Despite Phoenix’s strong third-quarter run, the team couldn’t overcome the absence of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor. Former MVP Taurasi is out indefinitely with a left hip flexor strain, while Penny Taylor will be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. With the loss, the Mercury fall to 2-5.
Last season, Taurasi and Taylor accounted for more than 43 percent of their team’s offensive output. The 2011 Mercury led the league in scoring with nearly 89 points per game. This year’s depleted bunch find themselves in the bottom half of the league in that department, ranked seventh with 77 points per game.
“It’s like driving a car with two wheels.” said Phoenix coach Corey Gaines. “It’s kind of hard, I don’t know what you can do.”
After losing steam in the third, the Sparks slammed the door shut in the fourth to close out the game. Despite Phoenix converting four of seven three-pointers in the quarter, including three from DeWanna Bonner, the Sparks controlled the paint, where they outscored their opponents 16-4.
The Sparks outrebounded the Mercury 42-31 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. In LA’s last meeting with Phoenix, the Sparks accumulated a season-high 17 offensive rebounds.
On Friday night, Phoenix’s inability to secure defensive rebounds gave LA the opportunity to score 19 second-chance points. By contrast, the Mercury merely produced two second-chance points.
The Sparks have now won four straight to extend their record to 6-1, the franchise’s best start since 2003.
Reach Staff Writer Amanda Martinez here