Well, that ended in a disaster.
The game got away from the Sparks in the second half. Rhyne Howard set off fireworks and it’s not even July 4th yet. And the Dream smashed the Sparks in Atlanta, 112-84.
The contest got off to a blistering start. Both teams couldn’t seem to miss. Especially Rhyne Howard (who, by the way, was not named an all-star on Saturday). The Dream scored a season-high 34 points in the first quarter. The Sparks had 28. And Rhyne Howard had 17 points for Atlanta in the first 10 minutes.
While Howard stayed hot, the Sparks were able to keep up with the bench play of Azurá Stevens. But Rhyne Howard made another three to put the Dream ahead, 54-48, at the half.
The Dream started pulling away a bit as Howard continued to get them buckets. We saw the Sparks get beat by cuts again. Despite a 13-point quarter by Nneka Ogwumike, Allisha Gray also got going to go along with the scorching Howard. It was an 80-69 lead for Atlanta after three.
And it just kept pouring on. We never saw a comeback from the Sparks. The lead swelled as the fourth quarter progressed. And in the end, it was a blowout win by Atlanta.
Again, it’s not an excuse but… the Sparks have missed 48 games due to injury and illness and that’s tops in the league. Coach Curt Miller mentioned that from the opening night of the season, four of their starters were not available (Nneka Ogwumike being the only one that was present). I also asked Coach Miller why she sat out the fourth quarter after such a great third period. He said that he had to pick and choose when to play her and as the lead grew for the Dream, he decided not to put her back in the game.
“She’s banged up. She’s played through some stuff. She got hit in the first half. Just being conservative and give Nneka a blow before the game got out of hand,” said Miller.
Nneka Ogwumike had 25 points by the third quarter before sitting out the entirety of the fourth quarter. Dearica Hamby scored 18 after a fast start. Azurá Stevens had a good game with 13 points (11 in the second quarter) and she attributed that to playing back to her natural position in the four (power forward) as she had been playing the three (small forward) this season. Zia Cooke had her second straight game with double figs at 11.
As for the Dream, Rhyne Howard went off for 43 points (one short of Betty Lennox’s franchise record set in 2008). Newly-minted all-star Allisha Gray scored 15 while former Spark Nia Coffey put in 13 points. After a fast start in the paint by the Sparks, the Dream came back to dominate inside and outscored L.A., 46-38.
The 7-10 Sparks ended their road trip on an 0-3 slate but they do go back to Los Angeles and get an immediate rematch with the Dream. I’m sure they’ll think of ways to stop Rhyne Howard but also remember that they have two all-stars in Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker (who only had 9 points on Sunday). But really, the Sparks can’t get a break in the health department. Let’s hope more players can suit up on Wednesday.