The Los Angeles Sparks came within a few possessions of sweeping their late season road back-to-back, but came up just short Thursday evening against the Atlanta Dream.
L.A. had three chances to tie after an Elizabeth Williams layup gave the Dream a 73-70 lead. Chelsea Gray lost the ball looking to push it in transition, and Candace Parker missed two quality looks from beyond the arc.
Alex Bentley (13 points, 8 assists off the bench) then drilled a pull-up jumper off the dribble over Parker with 16 seconds to play. A Riquna Williams 3-pointer on the following possession made things interesting, but Tiffany Hayes sunk all four of her free throws to seal the win for Atlanta.
Hanging over Thursday’s game was the news that broke this afternoon regarding the health of Dream All-Star forward Angel McCoughtry. The team announced that she will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ligaments in her left knee. McCoughtry sustained the injury late in Atlanta’s Tuesday win over the Las Vegas Aces when an Aces player inadvertently collided with her knee in pursuit of a loose ball.
The Dream, Sparks and Washington Mystics are currently bunched together atop the standings behind the Seattle Storm, battling for the ever-important two spot to secure a double-bye into the semifinals and avoid single elimination postseason play altogether.
Fatigue may have been a factor Thursday for L.A., playing out the second half of a road back-to-back. Having to do so against Atlanta’s top-ranked defense did not help the cause, as they held the Sparks to 42 percent shooting in Thursday’s contest.
The Sparks were also coming off a game 24 hours prior in which they were pushed for all 40 minutes by the New York Liberty. Parker, Gray and Nneka Ogwumike each logged at least 32 minutes in the 82-81 victory.
Dream forward Jessica Breland (19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) created a lot of issues for the Sparks on both ends of the floor. The All-Defense candidate possesses the length and athleticism to stick with and contest Parker on drives, and she really stood out throughout this game on the offensive end with her mid-range shooting and drives to the rim.
The Sparks have a few days to prepare for their next road test, their final meeting of the regular season with the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday (4 p.m. PT, ESPN2).