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Sparks vs. Fever Final Score: Short-handed Sparks fall at home against Indiana 78-76

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Down two starters, the Sparks came up just short at the buzzer in their loss to the Fever, despite missing a few starters.

WNBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Playing without Alana Beard (groin) and Nneka Ogwumike (illness), the Los Angeles Sparks nearly overcame a 14 point fourth quarter deficit Friday night at home against the Indiana Fever.

Indiana faltered twice in the final minute, leaving the door open for the Sparks to tie the game or win it with a three-pointer.

Fever guard Cappie Pondexter settled for a contested jumper up five with 40 seconds to play and more than 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Chelsea Gray drilled a step back from the right baseline in response to put the Sparks firmly in reach and make it a one possession game.

Erica Wheeler was sent to the line and hit one of two. Gray then got to the rim and scored out of a Sparks timeout to cut the Indiana’s four point lead in half. The Sparks did not foul immediately on the ensuing inbounds play, opting to trap instead.

The ball was first inbounded to Natalie Achonwa with 15 seconds to play. Wheeler ran to Achonwa to get the ball. As Wheeler tried to dribble away from the pressure, Gray and Odyssey Sims followed and trapped her out near midcourt. Gray deflected Wheeler’s attempted pass out of the trap, and the Sparks came away with the loose ball.

Essence Carson gained possession on the run near the left wing, dribbled, and pulled up from just inside the arc. The shot fell short, right into the arms of Candace Parker. Her putback attempt off the glass agonizingly missed just as the buzzer sounded.

The 2-21 Fever managed to come away with a win after they had trailed by eight at the end of the first quarter. Pondexter finished with 16 points and five assists against just one turnover in 26 minutes in her pseudo revenge game against Los Angeles. The 2007 WNBA Finals MVP signed with the Sparks as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, but was waived on June 28. Sparks head coach Brian Agler cited Pondexter’s desire for more minutes as the reasoning behind the move at the time.

Though they were forced to play without two starters, the Sparks have still dropped seven of their last 10 games and are just 8-5 at home thus far after going 16-1 at home in the 2017 regular season. Jantel Lavender (23 points, six rebounds) started in Ogwumike’s place and got off to a quick start, connecting on 5-of-8 from the field in the first quarter. Parker tallied 24 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.

The Fever jumped on the Sparks coming out of the break. Indiana’s 14-3 run to open the third forced Agler to burn two timeouts; the Fever went on to win the period by 15.

The Sparks stormed back with a 10-0 run, getting to the rim for all five buckets in that span. One of the highlights of the night came from Parker back in the third as she hit a runner off glass with her right hand falling to her left:

Rookie forward Maria Vadeeva played a part in LA’s fourth quarter surge, nearly mirroring Parker’s banker several minutes later:

Despite those highlights, there are no small victories in this condensed, 34-game regular season. Short-handed or not, a slip up against the last-place Fever could prove to be the difference between a double bye to the semifinals or a path back to the Finals that includes at least one single elimination game, and thus a greater chance of being upset.

It’s clear by now that not even a single bye will come easy. As LA limps toward the All-Star break, at least some rest is on the horizon. That will come in handy late, as the Sparks close the regular season with five of their final six games on the road.

This loss leaves Los Angeles and Dallas tied for fourth place at 14-10 behind Seattle, Phoenix and Atlanta.

The Sparks will travel to take on the Sky in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, then return home to face the Dream on Tuesday. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Sparks will resume play August 2 at home against the Minnesota Lynx.

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Ben Dull (Split the Post) to our team. He will be covering the Sparks for Silver Screen and Roll moving forward, and you can follow him on Twitter at @splitthepost.