Despite clinching an authoritative 99-76 victory over the Phoenix Mercury, the Los Angeles Sparks kept their focus on demanding justice for Breonna Taylor during their first game of the 2020 season.
The WNBA and the WNBPA decided to dedicate their Tip Off weekend to the Black Lives Matter movement along with Taylor and other victims of racial violence and police brutality.
To start the game, the teams observed a 26-second moment of silence; Taylor was 26 years old when she was murdered in March. The coaching staffs of both teams wore shirts that say “Black Lives Matter” on the front and “Say Her Name” on the back. The demonstration was devised by the league’s Social Justice Council and the WNBA, according to forward Nneka Ogwumike.
“We wanted to commemorate Breonna in whatever way we could,” she said. “The least we could do was have that moment that signified the years of her life that we could use to acknowledge her as a person and celebrate her life”
Players were able to speak with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, prior to Tip Off weekend. To honor her memory, every player from both teams wore Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” Gray said. “That’s been the talk around the league and amongst us players, we want to get different messages out there and saying her name is important, it’s vital to protect us as Black women.”
Sparks center Candace Parker mentioned how she had several conversations about Taylor to her daughter, Lailaa.
“As a mother, you would never want that to happen to your child,” Parker said. “It’s so important for young girls and young boys and adults to see our game today and to see what we played for and to see what we’re going to be playing for the rest of the season.”
Ogwumike did not throw away her shot, going eight out of eight from the field and leading all scorers with 21 points. She was one of six Sparks players that scored in the double digits. Veteran Mercury guard Diana Taurasi scored 16 points and center Brittney Griner made nine rebounds.
“It was a good well rounded team win,” said Sparks head coach Derek Fisher. “We hope to have many of those.”
Augustus also had a perfect shooting night, going six of six from field and two of two in three-pointers scoring 14 points.
The first half featured the usual competitive and physical nature of the Sparks/Mercury match up. The Sparks shot at 56 percent from the field and 45 percent from behind the arc. Guards Seimone Augustus shooting and Brittney Sykes’ athleticism helped the Sparks core players in the first quarter.
Phoenix kept the game close in the second quarter, resulting in eight ties during the time period. Guard Diana Taurasi made shots and Griner shared the ball to execute plays. The Sparks stayed in the game with free throws and kept their defense strong. A 5’9” Sykes elevated to block a layup by Griner shortly before halftime.
Los Angeles went into the third quarter ahead 50-46 and had the energy to be dominant. Phoenix suffered from poor shooting and turnovers. Guard Skylar Diggins-Smith snapped a three-minute scoring drought, the Sparks scored five points in the same time frame.
The Mercury endured another drought, allowing Ogwumike and guard Chelsea Gray to go on an eight-point run. Augustus made eight consecutive points to help the Sparks have a 26-point lead.
Te’a Cooper and Kristine Anigwe gained more playing time in the fourth quarter; Cooper was a main scorer in those final minutes, ultimately earning 10 points on her rookie debut.
The Sparks will play the Connecticut Sun on July 30 at 7:00P.M. on ESPN, then they will play the Seattle Storm on August 1 at 5:00P.M. on CBS Sports.