Candace Parker spoils debut of Breanna Stewart with 34-point explosion as Sparks beat Storm 96-66
By Cheryl Coward and Lee Michaelson
Los Angeles Sparks veteran forward Candace Parker spoiled the professional debut of the most decorated women’s college basketball player in history Sunday afternoon at Staples Center, leading her team to a 96-66 victory over the Seattle Storm in front of 10, 591 fans.
While rookie Breanna Stewart had an outstanding outing with 23 points and six rebounds, Parker was on fire for the Sparks with 21 first half points and finishing the game with 34 plus five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
All five starters for Los Angeles scored at least nine points and everyone on the roster saw action. The Sparks forced 24 turnovers and scored 30 points off of those Seattle mistakes.
“We learned a lot about the team, defense set the tone for us,” head coach Brian Agler said. “I told everyone that today won’t be their best game, but everyone played close to perfect attention, perfect intensity, and perfect concentration.”
The Sparks never trailed during the contest, jumping out to an 8-0 lead before the Storm could score. Stewart led a run to get Seattle within two points, but Parker stymied the Storm’s effort with back-to-back layups. Los Angeles led 26-15 after the first quarter.
The Sparks continued to dominate the Storm in the second quarter, ending the half leading 51-26.
Seattle staged a valiant comeback attempt in the third quarter led by Stewart. Her 13-point effort helped Seattle outscore Los Angeles 25-14 in the period. However, she had little help from her teammates. Three other Storm players scored in the ten-minute stretch but none more than four points each.
The beginning of the fourth quarter involved the two teams trading baskets. However, Seattle was unable to overcome its double-digit deficit and Los Angeles began to pull away further in the last several minutes. By the end of the last ten minutes, the Sparks had outscored the Storm 31-15.
Starting guard Kristi Toliver was also in double digits for Los Angeles with 14 points. Forward Nneka Ogwumike added 13 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s great, the energy is developing and building up,” said Ogwumike about the team’s performance and chemistry. “It’ll help to propel us going forward.”
“I think this is a talented team, and I believe that we can make some noise this season,” Parker said. “We will develop the chemistry as the season goes on, but I think we have great chemistry to begin with.”
The 2015 Rookie of the Year, guard guard Jewell Loyd had 20 points and five assists for Seattle. Loyd and Stewart were the only Storm players in double figures.
Stewart was humble in her assessment on the difference between the pro and college level.
“I think it’s a lot of things. I think it’s the physicality, there’s that jump between the college and pro level. The intensity once you’re playing, and we talk about experience a lot. These players have had experience playing in this league and playing overseas and things like that, which helps a lot. I’m trying to get as much experience as I can.”
Seattle was without Jenna O’Hea who is still honoring her overseas team commitment competing in the French League championships.
— Basket Promotion (@SebbaskeT) May 15, 2016
For many fans, Parker’s performance Sunday helped prove that the star should not have been left off of the 2016 U.S. women’s basketball Olympic team.
Last week Parker said she was surprised that she did not make the squad.
“I was looking forward to this summer,” she said. “I played well up until this point. Played well in both camps. I felt like my game is still in its prime.’”
Unlike several previous WNBA seasons, Parker was with the Sparks at the onset of preseason training camp.
“It’s like leaving a fingerprint. Joining the training camp is a big difference. It means building culture, and establishing it from day one. I’m learning the information with everyone else, and that means knowing what’s expected and learning team’s color.”
Storm head coach Jenny Boucek was effusive in her praise of Parker ad the Sparks.
“These are the best players in the world and Parker is one of the best players in the world for a reason,” Boucek said. “She’s been one of the best her whole life. They have a lot of good pieces around her. This is a super talented team, even on paper. They have No.1 picks coming off the bench, All-Stars, premium scorers on every position; this team is loaded.”
The Sparks return to action on Friday on the East Coast at Washington. The Storm play in Phoenix on the same day.
By the Numbers
- Points in the Paint: Storm 36 (18/27), Sparks 46 (23/32)
- Biggest Lead: Sparks 31
- 2nd Chance Points: Storm 7 (3/5), Sparks 9 (4/5)
- Lead Changes: 0
- Fast Break Points: Storm 12 (6/6), Sparks 10 (5/5)
- The Sparks avenged an 0-4 mark against the Storm from 2015.
- The 96-point output from Los Angeles fell just two points short of the Sparks’ 2015 season-high.
- Candace Parker’s 34 points surpassed her season-high from 2015 by a single point.
- After scoring just 26 first-half points, Seattle shot 65.0 percent from the field in the second half to keep the Storm close.
- The 30-point defeat was Seattle’s first loss by that large of a margin since 2013.
- Seattle won the rebounding battle 25-24 over Los Angeles, including five offensive boards for the Storm.
- Veteran guard Monica Wright, who was acquired midseason in 2015 but sat out due to injury, came off the bench and scored two points in seven minutes of action for the Storm.