Sparks preserve first win with defensive stand against Mystics

Ric Tapia-The Sporting Tribune
The Sparks win their first game of the regular season in dramatic fashion over Washington on Tuesday at the Long Beach Pyramid.

LONG BEACH, Calif — It was not a pretty game, but the Sparks earned their first victory of the season, holding off the the winless Washington Mystics 70-68 on Tuesday night at Long Beach Pyramid.

How ugly? The teams combined for 42 turnovers and neither team shot better than 47 percent from the field. The Sparks (1-2) went scoreless for more than six minutes at one stretch in the second quarter before Lexie Brown finally broke the seal with a free throw.

L.A. came back from nine points down in the fourth quarter before it built a nine-point lead. But the Mystics (0-4) were able to rally and whittle the lead down. After Kia Nurse split her free throws to boost the lead back to two, the Sparks were able to make that stand.

Rookie forward Cameron Brink was able to get stops inside. They did put 0.3 seconds back on the clock but it was too little time for the Mystics to get anything out. The Sparks escape with their first win.

Still, it was a sloppy game. The Sparks committed 24 turnovers compared to Washington’s 18. Dearica Hamby knew those mistakes need to be fixed.

“Turnovers. It’s pretty obvious,” Hamby said. “We gotta take better care of the ball.

“It’s gonna be really hard to win games with the amount of turnovers.”

When the mic was moved closer to Hamby, she repeated, “Turnovers!” which got a laugh out of the media crowd.

Those aforementioned runs by the Sparks helped them get the win.

“I think we just picked up the pace on the offensive end,” Lexie Brown said. “We want to run. We have such dangerous threats in every position, especially in space.”

Added Hamby: “Also, we got to our spots better. We matched their physicality a little bit more.”

Rickea Jackson scored nine points in 31 minutes and once again closed the game.

“The openness (to playing two positions), understanding that we were bringing her off the bench. She was rewarded tonight because of her play in Vegas,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “That was the equity. Put some equity in the bank.

“She made some plays early that allowed us to stick with it and go to that line-up again in the third quarter. It’s all a process and she’s seeing that she does the little things, she keeps growing, she keeps learning, she’s gonna earn more and more.”

Miller said Jackson and Brink are doing more than playing basketball for the Sparks.

“If you knew what was asked of them right now representing us and the opportunities they have off the court and then still come to perform every day, every morning,” said Miller. “The lifting, the extra shooting, the film work before we even go to practice. And then they’re going to go represent us at the Dodgers game and they’re going to go represent us which is so important to build our brand back up to what has been a long time.

“Those two are going to help bring that gold star back that people are going to want to play in L.A.”

As for Brink, she stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed her to play 30 minutes. She recorded four points, eight boards, three assists, four blocks and three steals.

Brown played all 40 minutes, leading the Sparks with 20 points and six assists (although she did commit seven turnovers). Hamby scored 12 of her 17 points in the third quarter while snaring 18 boards, her best with the Sparks.

Shakira Austin and Julie Vanloo led the Mystics with 12 points each. Aaliyah Edwards had 10 off the bench while ex-Spark Karlie Samuelson, who got a warm reception from the crowd, had nine points.

The victory was the Sparks’ last game in the Long Beach Pyramid. They move back into Crypto.com Arena on Friday when they host Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever.

Friday’s game will be the first WNBA meeting between the top two picks of last month’s draft, Clark and Brink.