Leilani Mitchell rescues Phoenix in overtime, 94-91, Sparks put the West on notice
LOS ANGELES – Phoenix beat Los Angeles in a fierce battle that went into overtime Sunday night, 94-91. The game featured a great matchup of centers, stellar perimeter play and a showcase of Australian talent in front of 7,126 fans that included two youth teams from Queensland, Australia.
While the Mercury came out on top, it was an even matchup that culminated in a play that let the winning shot come from the hands of point guard Leilani Mitchell, assisted by forward Candice Dupree, as Los Angeles defenders converged on center Brittney Griner.
“It was an entertaining game, obviously,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello. “As a spectator, I think they really enjoyed that kind of game. As a coach, I just think we didn’t come ready to play. L.A. They are a much improved team with Kristi [Toliver] out there making all those shots. Things were too easy for them at the start, but it was an entertaining game from that spectacle. I was glad we just won it.”
Sparks guard Toliver set the franchise record for points scored at 43 in a Friday night game against Tulsa. On Sunday, Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner help to stymie her production.
“Just don’t let her score 43 points on me. She hit some tough shots too. She is a great shooter and she has a great release. It’s still hard to contest it, but I just wanted to make it tough on her. She hit a couple shots on me and so be it. I think first half I was a little bit soft, so I had to pick it up and not let her get wide open looks.”
Toliver was disappointed that her team lost but was happy with how the Sparks performed.
“We were able to move the ball really well so we were able to get everybody involved. There were just certain parts of the game where [Phoenix Mercury] paid attention [to] people, some more than others, and when they did, we were able to find the open players. Overall, very unselfish game on our part offensively and getting everyone involved. Just came up short in the end.”
From the outset, the teams were locked in a back-and forth battle. Mercury forward Monique Currie nailed a bank shot to get the ball rolling for Phoenix offensively, but the Sparks countered right away with a driving layup from Jantel Lavender.
Neither team could mount a sustained offensive assault in the first quarter. Phoenix earned a five-point lead (20-15), their largest of the game, at 3:08 after a dunk from Griner. However, the Mercury’s Mistie Bass fouled Nneka Ogwumike 18 seconds later. Griner missed a jump shot and DeWanna Bonner fouled Sparks guard Erin Phillips who also made both of her free throws.
In the waning seconds of the quarter it was a back and forth contest that ended with a smooth floater from 5-3 guard Temeka Johnson to give her team a 27-26 lead.
The second quarter saw Johnson pick up where she left off with a jumper to give the Sparks a three-point edge. About a minute later, a trey from Kristi Toliver gave the Sparks their largest lead of the game, 34-28. The teams traded shots for much of the quarter with the Sparks leading by six points four more times before the end of the half. At the break, Los Angeles had a 46-42 lead.
Phoeinx head coach Sandy Brondello did not like the way the game started for her team.
“We didn’t come out to compete,” said Brondello. “We didn’t play defense. Not the way that we are capable of and that is what we hang our hat on. Offensively, we were fine but it was all about defense this game. Number one: too many offensive rebounds. Number two: we know they want pocket passes and we just didn’t execute the scouting report as well as we wanted to. It wasn’t a happy locker room at halftime. We got more energy, but LA still made some big shots. If you give a team confidence, it’s hard to stop.”
Sparks center Marianna Tolo was able to hold Griner to just seven first half points. Tolo, who had eight points before the break, relished the chance to go head-to-head with Griner.
“I played against her at Worlds so I had that experience,” said Tolo. “I knew that I needed to keep her out of the key because that’s her strength. She is dominant inside. That was my goal tonight. I thought I did a pretty good job of that. She got a good couple of moves against me but I stuck with it and played physical.”
Griner earned three quick fouls in the first half, but finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Her second double-double of the season. She took heed of here team’s advice in the second half and was more aggressive offensively.
“Honestly, I was just listening to my teammates. [DeWanna Bonner] got on me, and coach got on me and challenged me. My teammates basically just got me really focused and locked in, and I was able to respond to that. I respond well when my teammates hold me accountable. I was just able to do what I needed to do in the second half.”
Baskets from Currie, Dupree, Bonner and Griner early in the third quarter put Phoenix into a tie with Los Angeles. There were two more ties in the quarter and going into the fourth, the Mercury had a slim advantage over Phoenix 65-63.
The fourth quarter was more of the same back and forth ending in an 85 all tie at the end of regulation.
The Mercury outscored the Sparks 9-6 in overtime due to Mitchells’ game-winner with 3.9 seconds left on the clock. The Sparks called a timeout but when the game resumed they were not able to get a basket off due to a turnover committed by Phillips.
“We competed hard but we just have to finish games better,” said Sparks head coach Agler about his team’s play in the last seconds. “We had a chance to take the last shot and we turned it over.”
Bonner led Phoenix with 22 points plus five rebounds. Dupree scored 21 points and pulled down six rebounds and Currie added 12 points.
The Sparks starters scored 82 of the team’s 91 points with the bench scoring nine, all from guard Johnson. All five Sparks starters scored in double figures lead by Ogwumike’s 26 points and 19 rebounds. Phillips had a season-high 20 points, tied her season high with five assists, set a season high with four made three-point field goals, a season high six made free throws and a career high 43 minutes. Toliver finished with 16 points plus four rebounds and eight assists. Lavender and Tolo finished with 10 points, four rebounds each.
Los Angeles heads on a three-game road trip this week that begins with a game at San Antonio on Wednesday. Phoenix continues to their travel with a game at Seattle on Friday.
- The Queensland U15 and U17 teams were at the game courtesy of tickets purchased by Marianna Tolo. In addition the Australians on the court and sidelines (Brondello, Mitchell, Tolo and Phillips), former WNBA players and Australian national team member Michele Timms was at the game along with another former Opal Rachel Sporn.
- There were 18 lead changes in the game, with the Sparks largest lead at 6.
- Nneka Ogwumike earned a double double in the first half. This was her second consecutive and third of the season. She finished with 26 points, a season-high 19 rebounds and season-high six offensive rebounds
- Ogwumike surpassed 800 total career rebounds, rounding out her total to 805 with 19 rebounds in the game
- Erin Phillips had a season-high 20 points, tied her season high with five assists, set a season high with four made three-point field goals, a season high six made free throws and a career high 43 minutes
- Kristi Toliver earned her 600th total career assist and finished the night with 16 points and 8 assists, an individual opponent high for the Mercury
- Jantel Lavender reached the 1200 career point plateau with 10 points in the loss
- Marianna Tolo finished with 10 points and career-highs in assists (4) and blocks (3)
- The Sparks set several team highs in the loss
- Three-pointers made (9)
- Assists (26)
- Offensive rebounds (11)
- Blocked shots (5)
- Mercury set an overtime season-high 94 total team points, scoring an overtime season-high nine points in the overtime period
- Phoenix committed only one turnover with 10 assists in the first half and ended with a season-low 4 turnovers with 18 assists
- Phoenix had a season-high 11 blocked shots
- Rookie guard Marta Xargay made her WNBA debut scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds
- Mercury allowed 27 points in the first quarter, an opponent season-high
- Mercury allowed 46 points in the first half, an opponent season-high Points in the
By the Numbers
Paint: Mercury 38, Sparks 28
Second Chance Points: Mercury 10, Sparks 18
Fastbreak Points: Mercury 2, Sparks 4
Biggest Lead: Mercury 5, Sparks 6
Lead Changes: 18
Times Tied: 14