Monday, October 26th, 2020

Led by Candace Parker, Los Angeles hits the ground running on road trip to hold off Washington, 97-86

Published on June 16, 2018


June 15, 2018 (WASHINGTON, D.C) - Los Angeles Sparks at Washington Mystics, Capital One Arena. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

June 15, 2018 (WASHINGTON, D.C) – Los Angeles Sparks at Washington Mystics, Capital One Arena. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON – The Los Angeles Sparks (7-2) earned a tough 97-86 victory against the Washington Mystics (6-5) Friday night at Capital One Arena in front of 5,289 fans.

“We were a step behind defensively the whole first half and that carried over to our offense,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said about his team’s performance. “They kind of had their way with us. Our defense has got to get back on solid ground before we start this next stretch of games. L.A. is really good. They made some tough shots, and made some threes early, but we helped them.”

The Sparks hit the court running going up 8-0 with eight minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Six Los Angeles players scored in the first quarter and the Sparks led the Mystics 25-14.

Washington’s efforts to shut down the perimeter helped limit the Sparks’ momentum beyond the arc. Los Angeles had one big key to winning the game: Keep former Washington guard Kristi Toliver from shooting.

“KT when she is hitting her three’s, it is getting everyone else going,” Los Angeles forward Alana Beard said about the player she helped to guard. “That was our focus in terms of one: keeping the ball out of her hand, but two: taking up her space around the three-point line and forcing her to something different.”

The Sparks shut down Toliver quickly before she could get started. Beard and Riquna Williams focused on limiting Toliver’s touches and collapsed windows for her. Toliver was only able to earn six points. She went 0-of-4 from three-point range, an unusually poor performance for the veteran guard.

Spreading the ball, Los Angeles had 11 assists in the first quarter. A shooting drought from the Mystics kept the home team in a deficit as the Sparks padded their lead. Los Angeles shot an impressive 65 percent from the field as Williams led the way. She was on fire, shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from the field with 13 points in just eight minutes.

Forward Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 12 points and guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt gave support from the bench with 10 points. The game slipped through the cracks for Washington as they met their game average turnover rate at halftime. The Sparks cashed in on those turnovers for 10 points. Los Angeles continued to reign from the field no matter the measures the Mystics took. The visitors led 52-34 at halftime.

The Mystics fought back, opening the second half up on a 11-6 run led by Delle Donne and guard Natasha Cloud. They fought for loose balls and second chance shots. This boosted Washington’s energy, picking up the pieces of a rough first half up to outscore the Sparks 28-20 in the ten minutes after the break. Cloud scored eight points and center Latoya Sanders crashed the boards to help the Mystics in the third quarter.

Fighting from a 20-point deficit, Washington found grit to come from behind and tie the contest at 76 with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter after a Ruffin-Pratt lay-up.

The Mystics focused on their game instead of disrupting that of the Sparks. Beard made a corner jumper with 49 seconds in the last quarter that was a dagger in helping Los Angeles to secure the win. She came in clutch to close the game.

“I just challenged them a little bit about [and told them] if you want to have success in this league, you have to fight,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “Right now, we are not fighting very hard because they were beating us on the boards, off the dribble, and second and third shots. They were really doing everything, so we stepped up, eliminated their second point opportunities, and we had some people make some big shots.”

Adaptability was the winning component of the game. Los Angeles successfully pinched the perimeter and focused on shutting down guards like Toliver and Tianna Hawkins to bottle the paint up.

They disrupted the three-point advantage the Mystics rely on down the stretch. Washington finished just 8-of-22 from three-point range. The Sparks’ dominant defense allowed them to restructure and reset their offense to distance themselves from the Mystics, deterring a comeback attempt by the home team.

“We knew they are great three-point shooters,” former MVP Candace Parker said. “Coach [Agler] told us the amount of percentage each player takes in three’s in their total shots. We watched the Connecticut game. They got hot. We have to have good proactive rotation, and for the most part tonight, I would say especially in the first half, we had that.”

The MVPs on both squads took turns showcasing their skills throughout the game. Washington’s Delle Donne demonstrated poise and dependability while scoring and making defensive plays. She finished with a team-high 18 points plus seven rebounds.

“The way we were able to play defense and a team like [Los Angeles], it’s really hard to have a huge deficit like that and come back,” Delle Donne said. “It shows our grit, toughness, and ability to play with them. Unfortunately, our first half just was not even close to good enough.”

Delle Donne said the team must have more viable options to choose from when Toliver is guarded heavily. In addition to their 36 percent three-point shooting, Washington was 31-of-69 from the field.

“It’s hard on us,” Delle Donne said. “Kristi gets us going, so when people drape on her we [have] to find a way to get her open. Hopefully, we’ll put some things in the next couple of days because obviously, teams are going to do that. She’s one of the best shooters in the league so we [have] to find a way to get her clean shots.”

Parker drove to the basket and went a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line. She finished with a double-double before the start of the third quarter, facilitating the ball and making offensive impacts on her own. She tied her career-high of 11 assists and 23 points for a double-double.

“With the amount of weapons I have around me, it’s about searching and hunting for the best look,” said Parker. “We’re gonna take great looks. It’s my responsibility.”

Williams was perfect from the field 6-of-6 and 4-of-4 beyond the arc in addition to helping silence Toliver. She finished with 16 points and five assists.

“She was really significant in that first half,” Agler said. “She hit shots, guarded Kristi [Toliver], extended the defense. She got on a roll. She was in that zone that you hear people talk about. That was a great thing for our team and she did that.”

Overall, five Sparks players finished in double figures. Former MVP Nneka Ogwumike added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists while Chelsea Gray contributed 13 points and five assists.

The Mystics will have to overcome faltering down the stretch games. In their win 95-91 over the Connecticut Sun Tuesday night they had a dominant performance in only one half of the game. This allowed the Sun a chance to fight back from a 30-point deficit. The loss against the Sparks exposed Washington’s vulnerability over 40-minutes.

“The positive is if we play the right way, we can give ourselves a chance,” Thibault said. “I don’t see a lot of positive except a group of players in the second half decided to dig down. I’m not big into moral victories at the moment.”

Behind Delle Donne’s 18 points, center LaToya Sanders captured her first double-double of the season with 11 rebounds and 12 points. Ruffin-Pratt finished off the bench 14 points. The Mystics look to stay above .500 as the Chicago Sky visit Washington in an Eastern conference showdown June 19.

Los Angeles will continue their road trip at Chicago June 17 and return home to face the Indiana Fever June 19.


  • Los Angeles’ Candace Parker tied her career-high in assists (11)
  • Washington’s LaToya Sanders recorded her first double-double of the season with 11 rebounds and 12 points.
  • Points in the Paint: Mystics: 28 Sparks 30
  • Second Chance Points: Mystics: 14 Sparks: 4
  • Fastbreak Points: Mystics: 8, Sparks 5
  • Biggest Lead: Mystics: 0, Sparks 20
  • Lead Changes: 0
  • Times Tied: 1


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