LOS ANGELES — Oh, my god. We’re back again. The Los Angeles Sparks get a rematch with the New York Liberty after a game that became pretty close at the end of Sunday afternoon.
The Sparks (9-16) were beaten up for most of the game but they did make an inspired rally in the fourth quarter to actually make a game of it. They didn’t get closer than a 7-point deficit, though, as Sabrina Ionescu’s three-pointer put a stop to the comeback.
Nevertheless, it’s probably not a good idea to spot a 21-2 lead to an excellent New York Liberty (19-6) team. We can’t say if the game would be any different if the Sparks didn’t trail by double digits early but it certainly didn’t help. The ebbs and flows of the game favored New York for three quarters and it’s easy to let the gas pedal off and get complacent when a team has a humongous lead.
Still, the Sparks made that comeback and they could carry that momentum going into Tuesday night’s game. The game plan shouldn’t change much from Sunday but it’s one thing to talk about it and another to execute it. And Los Angeles really didn’t execute for those aforementioned three quarters. Hell, three-and-a-half quarters, really, since the Libs still led by 22 halfway through the fourth.
One of the easy culprits is three-point shooting. The Liberty were on pace to break the regular season record for most three-pointers in a WNBA regular season record (which is 18) as they made 10 of those long distance bombs in the first half. They ended with 15 for the game, which is 10 more than what the Sparks had. That’s a large 30-point difference right there. Marine Johannes really put the hurt on the Sparks as she made all five of her threes in the first half.
This was partly because the Liberty hardly missed early on but they had a 17-board advantage against Los Angeles. Even so, it’s hard to outrebound Jonquel Jones (who had 13) and Breanna Stewart (who had 9). The Sparks really have to be scrappy and match their physicality.
New York isn’t very good in transition defense. The Sparks couldn’t get on the fast break since the Liberty would make a shot or get the offensive board. L.A. finally got that transition going in the fourth quarter as they scored 12 of their 16 fast break points in that last stanza.
Dearica Hamby got it going; she credited running hard nonstop as she was able to break free from the Liberty players. She led the Sparks with 21 points on Sunday. Jordin Canada got it going late as she led a 15-0 burst late to make it a contest; she scored 17 points. We know Nneka Ogwumike operates silently but this time around, her silence felt extreme and loud as she only put in 10 points. She didn’t play in the fourth quarter, though, and stayed on the bench as the five on the floor late was making that rally.
Breanna Stewart scored 25 on Sunday, scoring 12 points in the third to keep the Sparks at bay. Marine Johannes was a difference-maker in that first half as she scored all of her 15 points in the first 20 minutes. And Jonquel Jones was a tower of power with 13 points and 13 boards.
The Sparks will get extra help on Tuesday as they signed Evina Westbrook from UConn to a weeklong hardship deal. She was drafted in the second round in last year’s draft by Seattle and has been a journeywoman since. Westbrook most recently played for the Phoenix Mercury before she was waived on June 22nd.
We know that the Liberty have a high-powered offense; can the Sparks hold them down this time? Or will they try to match New York bucket for bucket? It’s an exciting chess match, as head coach Curt Miller would say; let’s see which queen will do the most damage on that board tonight.