The Mystics used a timeout with 3.8 seconds to play and inbounded the ball to Cloud. All things considered, the Sparks should have felt good about their chances in that moment. They kept the ball away from Elena Delle Donne, and Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard was tagging Cloud, whose momentum was taking her away from the basket on the catch.
But then Cloud went to work, driving right then dribbling behind her back to get the jumper off just before the horn.
Things looked better for the Sparks to start, as L.A. got out to a 17-4 lead early as the Mystics missed 10 of their first 11 shots. Washington’s stars, but Delle Donne and former Spark Kristi Toliver combined for 18 first half point as Washington settled into the game.
Those not already aware of what was still at stake for both teams — the regular season tiebreaker between the two sides and a potential first round playoff bye — saw tensions bubble to the surface as Candace Parker and Tianna Hawkins had to be separated by teammates just before the half.
Parker and Hawkins were hit with offsetting technicals after a review by the officials.
Both halves began with big runs by the Sparks. The Mystics found themselves down 11 just moments into the third after being tied at the half. But Washington’s switching defense did its job, grinding L.A.’s offense to a halt as the game wore on.
The Mystics loaded up to Candace Parker, swarming to her anytime she had a live dribble. The Sparks were forced to create offense late in the shot clock and failed this test against a playoff-caliber opponent in Washington that appears to be peaking at just the right time.
The Mystics have now won eight games in a row, and still have an outside shot at the two seed with some help.
L.A. will continue to search for some answers, particularly on the offensive end. Riquna Williams scored 14 points in her second start of the season, but the team’s two guards off the bench (Essence Carson and Odyssey Sims) shot just 3-of-16 from the field.
Because the Connecticut Sun won their Friday contest over the Minnesota Lynx and already hold the regular season tiebreaker over the Sparks, L.A. would need a win Sunday and for the Phoenix Mercury to win Sunday against the New York Liberty to grab the four seed — the Sparks would win a three-way tiebreaker with the Sun and Mercury having the best record against .500-or-better teams.
A loss Sunday would mean the Sparks play Tuesday in the first round as either the five or six seed. A Sparks win and a Mercury loss would net L.A. the five seed, as Connecticut holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Sparks already.
The Sparks will close out the regular season on the road Sunday afternoon in Connecticut at noon PT, streaming live on Twitter and WNBA League Pass.