Some nights the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. That night was Wednesday for the Los Angeles Sparks, though they had a good excuse.
The Sparks were without four players due to injury, including three starters. They had only nine available players, and one of them — Lauren Cox — just joined the team today. And on top of that, they were facing off against one of the league’s top teams in the Las Vegas Aces.
So the end result — a 99-75 loss — was a bit predictable.
What was less predictable was the way it was achieved. The Sparks started the game strong against the stacked Aces, and held a 17-15 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
And then someone put a lid on the rim, and the shots simply could not fall. The Sparks only scored two more points the rest of the quarter, and halfway through the second quarter they had only added two more.
Yet the looks were decent. Even without Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, and Kristi Toliver, the Sparks were able to move the ball well around the perimeter, and penetrate the lane.
But between going cold, and Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson patrolling the paint for Vegas, the Sparks couldn’t make a basket. “I think at times we did a lot of really good things, we just didn’t convert on some opportunities we had,” coach Derek Fisher Said. “Good shots for a professional basketball game ... it wasn’t that we couldn’t get opportunities, we just couldn’t convert. I thought more so than that, we did some pretty decent things overall, offensively at least.”
As the shots kept clanking, and the deficit grew bigger and bigger, the defensive effort started to slip, as it does in those situations. “Defensively we kind of just over the course of the game started to split and get spread out, and the fatigue starts to set in with the short rotation,” said Fisher. “And when shots don’t go in ... it just starts to drain your energy.”
The Aces used a balanced attack to break down the Sparks, with six players reaching double figures, a 45.7% mark from the field, and 27 assists. Their three representatives in the All-Stars vs. Team USA game all excelled, with Wilson (17 points and 10 rebounds) and Cambage (13 points and 11 rebounds) registering double-doubles, while Dearica Hamby (13 points and 7 rebounds) had a great all-around game. But Vegas showed off their depth, as Jackie Young (18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists) led the team in scoring.
The Sparks were led by Amanda Zahui B., who had 22 points on 9-20 shooting, and held strong against Vegas’ star bigs with 9 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The starting backcourt of Erica Wheeler and Te’a Cooper combined for 28 points, but needed 27 shots to get there.
As for Cox, she stepped in and played nearly 19 minutes. And while her stats (4 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals) aren’t all that notable, she displayed some skills and feel for the game that will make the organization excited about having her for the rest of the season.
“I thought Lauren, in a really difficult situation, just did some really good things,” said Fisher. “No practice, no shootaround, no idea on terminology and sets and actions, but because of her feel for the game did some really great things.”
There’s only so much you can do, as a player or as a team in those circumstances. Even though the Sparks limited their mistakes and turnovers, and generally got decent looks, you can’t win many games shooting 34.1% from the field.
Those games happen, but L.A. will get a chance for revenge. The Aces are staying in town, and will rematch the Sparks Friday night.