Despite Chelsea Gray’s 23 points, the LA Sparks could not find a way past the Washington Mystics on Saturday at the Staples Center in front of 10,163 in attendance. Washington, with their prowess at the free throw line, hung on for an 83-74 win over the Sparks.
Free Throws Win Games
Free throws determined the outcome of the game on Saturday afternoon. Washington were able to get to the basket, draw fouls, and knock down 32 out of their 35 attempts from the line.
“…Free throws are indicative of how we play defensively,” Alana Beard said afterwards.
“We allowed them to get to their spots; we were slow on rotations, slow on our footwork. They wanted it more and were being more aggressive in that sense, so it played a huge role.”
The Mystics’ Latoya Sanders and Ariel Atkins made some big shots, early, which allowed them to take an 8-2 lead at the seven-minute mark.
Gray tried to get the Sparks back on track with a key lay-up down the lane. But Washington quickly responded with a couple of crucial baskets from Atkins.
Washington forced a turnover that led Monique Currie into a transition situation where she connected with Tianna Hawkins for an easy lay-up.
Shortly after, with three minutes left in the first, Essence Carson hit a 17-footer that cut the lead to nine. The Sparks were able to keep the tempo up, going on a 6-0 run, and closing the gap to only five points.
Sparks Try to Close the Gap
Nneka Ogwumike came out and opened up the second with a vengeance. Ogwumike went on a 7-2 run all by her self, capitalizing it with a three-point play in the paint.
But the Mystics answered right away through Elena Delle Donne. She scored five straight and gave her team a three-point advantage.
The Sparks finally took the lead for the first time with made shots from Candace Parker, Beard and Gray. Parker and Jantel Lavender extended the lead to five, going into the locker room up 35-30.
Both teams went head-to-head exchanging back-to-back baskets to open up the third. Ogwumike, though, took control with a pair of free throws, giving LA a 39-32 lead with seven minutes left in the quarter.
The Mystics clawed their way back to re-take the lead. Baskets from Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud were countered by Gray’s lay-up and the teams’ first three-pointer.
Toliver stayed composed getting to the free throw line, making five straight to cut the lead to two points. She then tied the game with another key bucket in the lane.
Ogwumike started the final frame off strong, knocking down a couple of free throws. However, the Mystics went on to score four straight baskets, before Sims ended that run with a 3-pointer that brought the Sparks within two.
The Sparks battled, but the Washington continued to extend their lead, with shots from Currie, Toliver, and Sanders. With only three minutes left in the final quarter, they went up by six points.
Gray tried to seize momentum with a three-point shot that trimmed the advantage to five with a minute remaining. However, Washington finished the game at the free throw line, closing out the Sparks for good.
Gray and Ogwumike Keep the Tempo Moving
It hasn’t been long since Ogwumike was back in the lineup after being out with a back injury. But since her return, it is clear how important she is for the Sparks. In Saturday’s game, she continued to ignite the fire that lifted the tempo of the game for the Sparks.
Ogwumike gave a stellar performance to open up the second quarter going on a solo 7-2 run, and an and-one play against Washington. She battled in the paint and got to the free throw line in the final two frames. The former number one pick also totaled a season high 13 rebounds and finished the game with 22 points, while tallying her fifth double-double of the season.
Gray had a stellar game as well, leading all scorers with 23. She put herself in the right places to score at key points of the game, helping the Sparks re-take the lead.
Toliver Steps Up
The Mystics two star players got off to a slow start in Saturday’s game. The Sparks were able to hold Delle Donne to only 11 points and 7 boards. It was a quiet game for a player of her caliber, especially after scoring 18 points and 7 rebounds in the previous meeting.
While Kristi Toliver, struggled against the Sparks during their last encounter, only scoring 6 points, she was her team’s leading scorer with 20 points in round two.
Toliver’s ability to get to the basket and draw the foul got her to the free throw line 13 times. Her hustle made the difference in the games final minutes as she finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, but also let the game come to me,” Kristi Toliver said on her performance.
Coach Mike Thibalt Makes History
Coach Thibalt celebrated Saturday’s win reaching his 300th win as a head coach in the WNBA. He said this about the occasion, “It just means I’ve been at it for a long time. It’s a nice number, but the only number I care about is that we’re the last team standing.”
When asked about his teams performance, Thibalt was content with his teams effort to dial in on Parker and slow her down.
“We were pretty dialed in on how to play her. I thought we tried to change up how play her. Sometimes we switched on her; sometimes we doubled in the post,” Coach Mike Thibalt said.
I thought Elena [Delle Donne] and LaToya [Sanders] got up and made her work tonight.”