Sparks lose to Sun, 90-76, fall out of the 8th playoff spot

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Sun sweep the season series against the Sparks.

It wasn’t a great day for the Sparks.

First, Nneka Ogwumike sat out her second straight game due to a knee injury. And then Karlie Samuelson was a late scratch due to bruised ribs. The Connecticut Sun were also banged up but Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner were healthy and they treated this game like they were playing for their playoff lives. We got an MVP performance from Thomas and the Sun defeated the Sparks, 90-76, even when there were hardly any stakes for Connecticut for the rest of the season.

After a 9-2 start by the Sparks, the Sun pretty much took control for the rest of the game. Alyssa Thomas did everything. Early on, she was finding her teammates everywhere. She went for a double-double in the first half as the lead grew for the Sun. Connecticut led, 49-36, going into the halftime break.

We know the Sparks are known to make games out of every situation. They did cut the deficit to 6 at one point. But the Sun had a counter for everything. Alyssa Thomas continued to make buckets. DeWanna Bonner was making her jumpers. Tip Hayes was getting to the rim. Ty Harris was a threat from the perimeter and Bec Allen did all the dirty work.

Like I said, both teams had very limited rosters but the Sun had their marquee stars while the Sparks had to make-do without Nneka, who was MVP in the 2016 season. With Chicago scoring a nice win over Indiana, the Sparks fall to 9th place (L.A. and Chicago have identical records but the Sky hold the tiebreaker). Also of note, the Connecticut Sun swept the season series over the Sparks.

“I appreciated that they weren’t bullied,” said Coach Miller. “So our post game had a good night back at them. Five starters in double figures. Had to log a lot of minutes ’cause of the numbers that we were down.”

Coach Miller pointed out the lack of personnel the Sparks (and, really, the entire league) have had throughout the season. It really shows how much adversity the Sparks have gone through in this campaign.

“That group of 8… the league has to look at something. With two really talented teams had to play with 8 players each, it’s just sad. 38 games, we have yet to play a game with 11 players,” said Miller.

“Every team can compete with everybody. But they’re showing up. They’re playing well. They have a couple of all-stars on their team. Alyssa Thomas is a candidate for MVP,” said Dearica Hamby when I asked why the Sun seem to have their number. “But that doesn’t mean we’re backing down or anything. It is what it is.”

Connecticut shot better (.507 to .417 by the Sparks) and had a 46-28 advantage in the paint. But when you have a game like Alyssa Thomas had, that’s just so difficult to compete against. The Sun led by double digits a lot of the game and that’s such a hill to climb, especially with the way the Connecticut team plays defense.

As mentioned by Coach Miller, the Sparks had all their starters in double figures. They were led by Azura Stevens and Hamby, who both had 18 points. Stevens also had 11 boards in the game. Layshia Clarendon had 13 while Rae Burrell also had 13, which was a new career-best for her.

On the Sun’s side, Alyssa Thomas went for a mind-boggling 27-12-14. AND 6 steals. In fact, here’s how her season has gone up to this point:

Just an unbelievable season. Yet she’s not considered for MVP as much as Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson. I think she should be getting as much talk. But I digress…

DeWanna Bonner had 25 points while Tiffany Hayes had 13. Just a fantastic performance for a team that decided to stay sharp even though they have nothing more to gain in the regular season.

Chicago and L.A. are both 16-22 but the Sky hold the tiebreaker for the 8th spot. The Sparks have to go to New York on Thursday (the Liberty might still be playing for that #1 seed) and then finish the season at Seattle on Sunday (while the Storm have defeated the Sparks twice). As for the Sky, they have the Minnesota Lynx on Friday (they have split the season series) and then end the season against the Connecticut Sun (the Sun have won all three games against the Sky so far). The Sparks have to hope that the Sky lose one more game than them in those two games. So this might really come down to the wire.

The injuries have really put a damper on the Sparks’ last road trip. If Nneka and Karlie Samuelson stay out, that might be the season for them.

But we’ll see what happens against the Liberty. It’s not over yet. And you know that with how the Sparks have handled business, don’t count them out just yet.