With seconds left, forward Essence Carson had the ball. The Los Angeles Sparks had conquered a double-digit deficit, but only needed three points to win. Carson opted for a long jumper, but it did not fall. Center Candace Parker gained possession, but her shot would not force the game into overtime.
Despite losing to the Indiana Fever 78-76, the shorthanded Sparks competed with high energy during the first and fourth quarters. Sparks head coach Brian Agler said how the urgency and energy showed in those times are required to compete.
Parker secured a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds, she also secured seven assists. Guard Cappie Pondexter faced off against the Sparks for the first time she was released from the franchise, tying with veteran forward Candice Dupree for 16 points. Center Natalie Achonwa led the Fever in rebounds with nine.
Los Angeles did their best without guard Alana Beard’s insatiable defense and forward Nneka Ogwumike’s usual 16 points and 7 rebounds. The Sparks went the entire game without a block and only had three steals. Los Angeles also struggled with ball protection, giving away 17 points from 11 turnovers.
However, Agler was impressed with the efforts of center Jantel Lavender, who scored 23 points and six rebounds on her fourth start of the season.
“[Lavender] was huge,” he said. “Especially in the first half, [she] played extremely well, got to the free throw line seven times, which we liked.”
Buckets from Lavender and a three-pointer from Parker would give the Sparks a 9-2 lead. After the Fever tied with them, Los Angeles still made good of their offensive possessions. Lavender led all sorcerers with 11 points and tied Parker with four rebounds at the end of the first term.
All of Lavender’s rebounds come from the offensive end, helping to land four second-chance points.
“Our initial focus is to get the ball inside and have it certain people’s hands,” Lavender said. “Get rim runs, make sure we play inside out and we got that in the first half.”
The Sparks began relying on perimeter shots in the second quarter, but they struggled to score. Indiana then found their shot, closing their deficit to one. Rookie Victoria Vivians would tie the game with a three-pointer.
By halftime, the Sparks led by three with Lavender and Parker with double-digit scores.
The Fever returned to the court with a blazing 10-3 run by Dupree, Erica Wheeler, and Achonwa. Half way through the third, Los Angeles had a five-point deficit. Then Pondexter found a rhythm, expanding the Fever lead to 11.
“The girls were pushing it and I was getting wide open shots. We were just having fun out there,” said Pondexter. “We were just trying to get our third win. I want to credit that second unit that came in in the second quarter.”
A clutch three by guard Odyssey Sims was nullified by guard Kelsey Mitchell’s three. Although Gray and Lavender made shots, Mitchell sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer; Indiana bested Los Angeles 66-54.
Burdened with a 12-point deficit, the Sparks rallied in the final quarter. Essence Carson stripped the ball from Vivians for a fast break bucket. Parker battled for second-chance points. These efforts chopped their deficit in half with 5:08 left.
“Getting drives, getting second-chance points, I think that was key for us is being able to get stops and get out on transition,” Parker said.
The Sparks continued to battle as the game dwindled, but the Fever found baskets to keep the game out of reach. Indiana also outran the Sparks, scoring 22 fast break points compared to the Sparks’ two.
The Sparks battle against the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday at 7:30 in the Staples Center.