Sluggish start, finish dooms Sparks at home
85-79 loss to Sacramento has team searching for answers
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
Starting off sluggish has almost become a trend for the Sparks this season. The only question is if the team finds a way in time to pull themselves out of the jaws of defeat.
Thatâ€™s what almost happened on Friday against Sacramento. They overcome a 12-point deficit in the first quarter but were unable to hold off the Monarchs down the stretch, losing 85-79.
It was Sacramentoâ€™s (7-17) first win at Staples Center in their last seven tries and only their third road win of the season. Afterwards head coach Michael Cooper didnâ€™t hide his disgust with his teamâ€™s effort.
â€œWe blew a golden opportunity to a team that is playing for nothing but pride, They jumped on us from the beginning and we never responded,â€ Cooper said.
A lackluster first quarter saw the Sparks (8-13) give up 32 points to the Monarchs while turning the ball over seven times. They would give up 28 more in the fourth quarter as five Monarchs finished the game in double figures, led by Rebekkah Brunson (19 points) and Nicole Powell (18 pts).
But it was how they scored â€“ open looks, backdoor lay-ups â€“ that left Cooper, a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, visibly frustrated and feeling limited.
â€œI can only coach plays. I canâ€™t coach pride on defense, decision making, shots or passes,â€ he said. â€œUntil we decide to play defense as a team and not as individuals, weâ€™ll just flounder.â€
The loss cost the team a chance to pass idle San Antonio for fourth place in the Western Conference standings. Now 1 Â½ games back and still out of a playoff spot, the team has to regroup quickly as they fly up to Sacramento for a rematch Saturday.
â€œJust how winning is contagious, it seems like losing is contagious too,â€ said Lisa Leslie, who led the team with a season-high 25 points. â€œThere are spurts when weâ€™re fighting hard and then thereâ€™s spurts where the teamâ€™s running up points on us and we canâ€™t get defensive stops.â€
They found their rhythm in the second quarter behind the play of Noelle Quinn and cut the lead to one (46-45) on her 11-foot running shot before halftime. Tina Thompsonâ€™s putback with 5:27 left in the third gave the Sparks their first lead since scoring the gameâ€™s first bucket.
The fourth was a back-and-forth affair until trailing 68-66, the Monarchs went on a late 11-0 run. The Sparks responded with their own run to cut the lead to 77-74 but that would be their last stand.
Right out of a time out, Ticha Penicheiro scored on a driving lay-up to increase the lead to five and after Candace Parker missed one of two FTâ€™s, Penicheiro found Rebekkah Brunson for a backdoor layup that sealed the game.
For the Sparks, Quinn continued her hot play as of late, finishing with 13 points off the bench, while Tina Thompson (12 points) and Parker (10 points, 10 rebounds) also chipped in.
The loss overshadowed another milestone moment for Leslie, who picked up her 800th career block in the first quarter. Leslie, who scored her league-leading 6,000th point on August 10, joined Margo Dydek (877) in the 800-block club.
But with another game on the horizon, the team knows that the fight for the playoffs starts anew and Fridayâ€™s game could serve as a stepping stone or a stumbling block that continues their spiral.
â€œWe canâ€™t fix the past, we just have to move forward and salvage the rest of this season,â€ Parker said.