Sparks Defense Not Enough in Loss to Storm

The Sparks entered Wednesday night’s game on the road against the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm hoping to snap a four-game skid. Despite putting up quite a fight, they ultimately fell 71-62. The Sparks held Seattle to 71 points on 37.7% shooting, well below their season offensive averages of 81.8 ppg on 46.4% shooting. LA’s defense helped the Sparks erase a 17-point deficit and cut the lead to one in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.

Erica Wheeler pumped out yet another impressive performance, scoring a team-high 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. She was the only Sparks player in double-figures.

LA played with heart on defense, limiting the vast majority of Seattle’s roster to less-than-stellar offensive outputs. Even legendary point guard Sue Bird was held in check, with just three points and five assists.

However, as they have done all season when the going gets tough, the Storm fell back on outstanding performances by their superstars. Reigning WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart led all players with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, fellow star Jewell Loyd added 18 points and six rebounds.

After staying tight for much of the first quarter, the Storm scored 12 unanswered points to carry a commanding 23-9 lead into the second quarter. However, the tide began to turn in the second period for the Sparks, who trailed by as many as 17 points before closing the half on a 12-5 scoring run, trimming the Storm’s lead to just nine at the midway marker.

Amanda Zahui B. helped Los Angeles stay competitive early, scoring nine points and reeling in 6 rebounds in the first half. Meanwhile, Seattle was paced by superstars Brenna Stewart and Jewel Loyd, who combined to score 23 of their team’s 38 first-half points. Seattle led 38-29 at intermission.

The second half began slowly for both squads with a total of four points scored between either team in the third quarter’s first three minutes. However, both offenses picked up after the sluggish start, and traded baskets until the fourth period, with Seattle holding onto a 53-43 lead. Erica Wheeler exploded to score 11 of LA’s 14 points in the third quarter. Seattle, conversely, relied on an array of players to stay efficient offensively.

Los Angeles would mount a furious rally in the fourth quarter, getting to within one point of the Storm with just over two minutes to go in regulation at 61-60. Nia Coffey was key to the late charge by the Sparks, scoring five points and adding an assist on the run. Meanwhile, the Sparks got a big boost from rookie Arella Guirantes, who scored 6 points for the Sparks down the stretch, and hit a 16-footer to cut Seattle’s lead to 61-60. Guirantes tied her career-high with 21 minutes played.

“Win the quarters. Control the controllables,” Guirantes said after the game, referencing Coach Fisher’s halftime message. “We went into halftime with good momentum that we could build off coming out, and I thought we did that and got the lead down as little as one. ”

Ultimately, though, LA’s late-game heroics were not enough, as reigning WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart put things out of reach with 10 fourth-quarter points, all of them coming in the game’s final three-and-a-half minutes.

Despite hitting just 37.7% of their field goal attempts, the Storm were able to maintain an edge over LA throughout the contest with their own strong defense — the Sparks shot just 35.6% from the field — and near-perfect free throw shooting — hitting 20 of 21 attempts. Moreover, they out-rebounded the Sparks 37 to 28 and committed just two more turnovers than LA, a statistical category the Sparks have dominated in most of their games this season.

After the game, Erica Wheeler expressed confidence in her team’s performance tonight and future trajectory.

“We are in games and literally down 10 or down five with three of our key players out. Chiney (Ogwumike) is out, Nneka (Ogwumike) is out, and KT (Kristi Toliver). We are still giving teams hell. When my teammates get back, it is going to be a different ball game.” The loss dropped the injury-riddled Sparks to 6-12 on the season and improved the Storm to a league-best 15-4 record.

The Sparks will now return home to take on the rival Minnesota Lynx at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Sunday, July 11 at 6 p.m. PT. It will be their final game before the All-Star break and month-long Olympic hiatus.