Sparks Honor ’97 Game, Fall to Liberty

On Father’s Day, the Los Angeles Sparks fell short against the New York Liberty, 76-73, in a rematch of the WNBA’s inaugural game on June 21, 1997.

The teams played a tight first quarter, with the Liberty carrying a 21-18 lead into the second quarter. The Liberty had an evenly distributed scoring attack in the first period. Conversely, Sparks leaned heavily on Erica Wheeler, who had a phenomenal first quarter, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Just minutes into the game, she was in double-figures for the seventh time this season.

The second quarter saw the Liberty build on their lead, which stood at 44-36 by halftime. Nia Coffey came alive for Los Angeles in the 2nd period, as she scored 8 points, sent back a Liberty layup attempt, and snagged a rebound. LA’s Kristi Toliver hit a milestone 1,500th field goal in the second quarter on a 21-foot jumper. The Liberty were led by Rebecca Allen, who hit three consecutive 3-pointers to start the quarter. She also brought in 2 rebounds, recorded an assist, and grabbed a steal.

In the first half Erica Wheeler led all players with 13 points and 5 assists. Rebecca Allen led the Liberty with 12 first-half points. Meanwhile, the Liberty’s Sami Whitcomb led all players with 6 first-half rebounds.

The Liberty used an early third quarter run to extend their lead to 14 points. The run was propelled by Betnijah Laney, who scored on 3 straight possessions for New York. Kristi Toliver helped the Sparks stay within striking distance by scoring 11 of her team’s first 15 third-quarter points. With just over 1 minute to go in the quarter Nia Coffey knocked down a triple to shrink New York’s led to just 2 points. Less than a minute later, Erica Wheeler hit a driving layup to knot the contest up at 58 as the game went to the 4th quarter. LA’s Brittney Sykes hit her 500th career field goal and recorded her 100th career steal in the third quarter

Carrying her hot hand over from the third quarter, Kristi Toliver hit a jumper on the Sparks first possession of the fourth quarter to put the Sparks up 60-58, their first lead since being up 17-16 late in the first quarter. From there, each team traded buckets. There were five lead changes in the final 4 minutes of the game. The Sparks found themselves trailing by 3 points with 8.2 seconds to go in regulation. With one final chance to tie it up at the buzzer, a Nia Coffey 3-point attempt hit the backiron, giving the Liberty a 76-73 victory.

The Sparks outshot the Liberty 45.6% to 42.1% and forced 12 more turnovers than they committed. However, New York out-rebounded Los Angeles and hit 18-of-20 free throw attempts, while LA made just 5-of-10. Four Sparks finished in double figures — Erica Wheeler (20), Kristi Toliver (15), Nia Coffey (15), and Brittney Sykes (10). Wheeler’s 20 points and 10 assists led all players and was her second double-double of the season and of her career. Additionally, her 6 rebounds were tops for the Sparks. Brittney Sykes nabbed a game-high 7 steals for Los Angeles. New York also had 4 players score in double-figures. They were led by Rebecca Allen’s 19 points. Betnijah Laney led the team with 5 assists while Sami Whitcomb led all players with 9 rebounds.

The game dropped the Sparks to 5-7 and improved the Liberty to 7-6. After playing 3 games in 5 days, the Sparks now get a few days off before taking on the Washington Mystics in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 24.