The Los Angeles Sparks started their 2020 season off emphatically, defeating the Phoenix Mercury 99-76 on Saturday at IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida.
As the shortened 2020 WNBA season kicked off, the opening weekend of games commemorated the Black Lives Matter movement, where Breonna Taylor’s name was seen across the court and on the backs of player’s uniforms.
“Breonna Taylor was 26?” Chelsea Gray asked after the game. “She had so much life to live, and we’re killing. That’s the youth right there. I’m 27 years old. That could’ve been me last year.”
“Coming into this, I think everybody knew why this was bigger than basketball, especially to the W,” Nneka Ogwumike added. “We’re not new to this fight. Our movement has found its moment. This is who we are.”
On the court, the Sparks overwhelmed Phoenix in the third quarter after a highly contested first half, outscoring the Mercury 30-8 in the period. The Sparks defense forced 27 Phoenix turnovers, their most since 2016, and the Sparks scored 38 points off of them.
Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with 21 points on a perfect 8-for-8 from the field to go along with seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Newcomer Brittney Sykes set the pace early with two highlights as she forcefully drove to the basket on a step-through move and followed it up by blocking the 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner.
Seimone Augustus was one of six Sparks in double-figures, shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor and scoring 14 points to help extend the Sparks lead to 80-54 heading into the final quarter.
“This team has a very high basketball IQ,” Augustus said. “But most importantly, they are workers, so I can play with anybody that works extremely hard because of a lot of the mistakes we’ll have, we’ll make up for it with the intensity and the passion that we play with.”
Augustus and Ogwumike combined to make all 14 of their shots. Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker added 13 points apiece, and Brittney Sykes and rookie Te’a Cooper each scored 10.
The Sparks improved to 23-12 in the regular season under second-year head coach Derek Fisher.
Phoenix was led by future Hall-of-Famer Diana Taurasi, who missed all but six games last season with back and hamstring injuries. She scored 16 points, and newly acquired All-Star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith added 14 points and six assists. The Phoenix roster saw a lot of change in the offseason, where they lost DeWanna Bonner and added Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley.
The Sparks next game is against the Chicago Sky on Tuesday, July 28 at 8ET on Spectrum SportsNet.
Los Angeles Highlights:
- Nneka Ogwumike scored 21 points on 8-8 shooting with 7 rebounds in 24 minutes
- Sparks scored 38 points on 27 forced turnovers
- Six Sparks players score in double-digits including rookie Te’a Cooper in her debut
- Sparks had a huge third quarter, outscoring the Mercury 30-8, finishing the game with a 23-point victory
- Seimone Augustus brought the heat in her first game with the Sparks, shooting 6-6 with 14 points