The LA Sparks fell 86-78 on Sunday afternoon to the Phoenix Mercury, behind DeWanna Bonner’s career-high 31 points. Despite this defeat, the Sparks still won the season series by a score of 2-1, giving them a needed tiebreaker advantage.
LA, because of this defeat, fell down into the fifth spot in the race for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Phoenix edged a little closer to the Sparks in the standings, with only a half game separating the two sides.
Bonner did it all for her side in the win over LA on her bobble head night which featured her twins. She drove to the basket often, but was not afraid of draining a shot from deep.
“I just really wanted to win. I just really wanted to beat them, and right now we need to find a good rhythm to get ready for playoffs, and that was my mindset,” Bonner said afterwards.
For the Mercury, though, it was not just the Bonner show. Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner added 20 points each, making Phoenix’s trio of offensive talent nearly unstoppable. As a team, Phoenix shot over 52% for the game, while sinking ten three-point shots, including Bonner’s half-court buzzer beater to end the third.
Alana Beard reached a career milestone on Sunday. She played in her 400th WNBA game and came away with two steals and three rebounds.
“She’s an elite defender in the perimeter of our league. She makes life hard on you when you’re out there,” Taurasi said.
Candace Parker also finished with a team high 23 points and passed Tangela Smith for 18th all time in Sparks’ history.
The other sharp shooter, Riquana Williams, took awhile to get going, but she still came away with 13 points, which was her third straight game in double figures. Finally, the Russian rookie Maria Vadeeva finished the game with a career high 16 points in the loss to Phoenix.
Parker Ignites the Sparks in the First
Candace Parker stole the show in the opening ten minutes of action for the Sparks. The veteran scored the first 12 points for her team. When the quarter came to a close, she accumulated 15 on her own, while also bringing down five rebounds.
She was the focal point. If Parker had not gone off like she did, LA would have been down big early in the game. Because when the quarter came to a close, the Sparks had managed to edge Phoenix 22-21.
It looked as if the Sparks were starting to pull away in the second frame. Parker drilled a three-pointer to put LA up by three. Then, Nneka Ogwumike cut to the rim to give the Sparks a five point advantage.
Phoenix Seize the Momentum
The Mercury, though, got back into the contest, seizing the momentum late in the first half. Bonner ignited the late surge with a layup before drilling a shot behind the arc to tie the game.
After halftime, the Mercury pushed their lead to ten after Taurasi made all three of her free throws. Maria Vadeeva, though, saw her first minutes during the third frame and immediately made an impact. She converted a turnaround jumper to bring the Sparks within eight. Then, Ogwumike sank a three point attempt to cut the lead to six.
Fouls were an issue in the third quarter. The refs tacked on nine personal fouls for LA, while only giving three to Phoenix. Head Coach Brian Agler vented his frustrations during that frame towards a referee and somehow did not come away with a technical.
Bonner, though, was the driving force throughout the game. With time running out in the third, Bonner set her feet and nailed a three pointer to give Phoenix a 13 point lead.
“That was a big shot, it took the lead from 10 to 13. I guess the bad thing was they got the ball back because we turned the ball over. They outplayed us,” said Head Coach Brian Agler after.
The Sparks attempted a valiant comeback in the fourth quarter. They outscored the Mercury 24-19, but the damage had already been done. One key aspect of the final ten minutes was the fact that Parker did not score a single point. If Parker had her scoring touch from the first half, perhaps LA could have walked away with a vital win.
With just three games remaining, the Sparks are going to be at their absolute best in order to get a good playoff seed. LA return’s for their final home game on Tuesday to take on the New York Liberty at 7:30 PM.