LOS ANGELES — The season opener was something special. We saw the return of Brittney Griner to basketball. And she got quite the ovation when they entered the court.
The cheers seemed even louder during the starting line-ups.
It was a momentous occasion as VP Kamala Harris was at the game.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham was there, too!
But the Sparks ran away from the second quarter on as they won their home opener, 94-71.
The Mercury only had eight players as Sophie Cunningham, Megan Gustafson, and Shey Peddy were all out with various injuries. Skylar Diggins-Smith was also out due to maternity leave.
Those cheers for Griner buoyed to a quick 7-0 start for Mercury. Brittney Griner scored 4 early. The Mercury were actually up, 20-9, before the Sparks had an 8-0 run that was punctuated by a Karlie Samuelson three. The first quarter ended with a 22-19 Mercury edge.
Zia Cooke got on fire in the second quarter as she scored 11 quick points. She would score 14 points overall as she led a three-point barrage for Los Angeles. The Sparks would build a 54-41 halftime lead.
Lexie Brown would continue the assault with a three to start the third. A Chiney Ogwumike three would give Los Angeles a 21-point lead. The Sparks pretty much poured it on from there as Phoenix never got back into it. But it was cool to see Brittney Griner make buckets, though.
The Sparks were crisp on defense while taking care of the ball. They also got hot from three while Diana Taurasi had an off night. It probably didn’t help that the Mercury had even more turnover than the Sparks on Opening Night (though Sophie Cunningham is supposedly available for the next game). Chemistry can take some time.
Los Angeles had a balanced attack led by Nneka Ogwumike (17 points). Younger sister Chiney scored 15. Lexie Brown made three threes on her way to 14. Zia Cooke made all 14 of her points in the second. Karlie Samuelson, who’s on a hardship deal, scored 13 huge points.
Brittney Griner led all players with 18 points and it’s so good to see her play. Diana Taurasi scored 15 but shot 4/15 from the field (1/9 from three). Former #2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson put in 16 points.
Before the game, I got to ask Zia Cooke about what was the biggest thing she learned since she got drafted.
As mentioned, Zia went on to score 14 points.
Head coach Curt Miller talked about the big day as well as the Sparks’ tremendous play.
Coach went on to talk about the Sparks’ resilience and then going on to win by 20+.
Karlie Samuelson, who is on a hardship deal, scored 13 points and talked about the emotions of tonight.
Both Nneka Ogwumike and Samuelson talked about the selflessness and preparation of the Sparks.
The Sparks are now 1-0 and they go on to face the defending champion Las Vegas Aces on Thursday, May 25. They may see a familiar face or two on that team.
Great season opener for the Sparks. And welcome back, Brittney Griner.
Laurie Smith contributed to this report.