Sparks fall to the Mystics, 79-77

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Sparks face the Washington Mystics again on Sunday in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Another close game, another close loss for the Sparks.

The Sparks went to the nation’s capital for a two-game series against the Mystics, the lone team they hadn’t faced this season going into Friday. The Mystics (13-13) led for the most part and held on for the victory, 79-77. The Sparks (9-18) have now lost three in a row.

After taking an early 5-2 lead, the Mystics went on a run as they took advantage of Sparks turnovers. Washington led, 20-9, before the Sparks woke up to score 8 in a row. At the end of one, it was Mystics 21, Sparks 17.

Tianna Hawkins led a run that had the Mystics leading by as many as 13 points. But Azura Stevens got going for the Sparks, scoring 10 points in the second quarter. Late free throws by Los Angeles got the game back to single digits by halftime, 48-40.

It was a grind in the third quarter as we saw both teams struggle to make buckets. Evina Westbrook did make her Sparks debut and made free throws late in the period. But both teams combined to score 23 points in that 10-minute period. The Mystics still led going into the fourth, 58-53.

The Mystics still led by 10 with 4:30 left in the game when Nneka Ogwumike got herself going. She led the Sparks on a 10-2 boost and, suddenly, the deficit was down to 75-73. The Sparks had a shot to tie or take the lead with under a minute left but Jordin Canada lost the ball, which led to a Tianna Hawkins breakaway lay-up. The Sparks had to play the foul game and an Azura three was too little, too late. The Mystics escape with the two-point win.

If there was a main culprit here, it’s turnovers. And sometimes, the Sparks just have the worst timing when it comes to that. Los Angeles committed 17 of those giveaways which led to 20 Washington points. Stevens mentioned this during the postgame conference and reiterated that they absolutely cannot turn the ball over like that, no matter what team they’re facing.

Head coach Curt Miller also mentioned that while the Sparks did a great job getting the rebounds (43-32 advantage by the Sparks), he did wonder if that was part of the tactic by the Mystics to get back on defense. As I had said in the preview, the Mystics were the third best defensive team going into Friday night and second in forcing the most turnovers. They’re not a big team with most of their core out but the team from the District are as scrappy as they come.

Azura Stevens scored 19 points to lead the Sparks. Nneka Ogwumike had a late push as she ended with 18 points and 8 boards. Dearica Hamby came off the bench to get 14 points and 7 rebounds. Zia Cooke scored 10 points after her first professional DNP on Tuesday. Coach Miller lauded Zia for hunting for her offense but not forcing it. As I asked for Cooke’s reaction on her DNP, she simply said she had no reaction and she’ll only control what she can control.

On Washington’s side, Tianna Hawkins was huge for them as she scored 17 points. Queen Egbo was also huge as she scored 15 points and snared 9 boards. They also had three other players in double figures (Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had 11 while Natasha Cloud and Li Meng each had 10). Brittney Sykes flirted with a triple-double herself (8 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists as well as four steals).

The chess match continues as the Sparks face the Mystics a second time on Sunday. Who will force checkmate next time? Will all the pawns play their role? And which queen will conquer?

Of course, L.A. hopes the Sparks can conquer. Losing 11 of 13 games can’t feel good.