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Sparks lose their playoff position with nail-biter loss to Sun

L.A. lost 76-72 to Connecticut.

Los Angeles Sparks v Connecticut Sun Photo by Annette Grant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Sparks had a tall task on Thursday, hitting the road to take on a Connecticut Sun team that had won six straight games, 10 of their last 11, and stood alone atop the league’s standings.

L.A. seemed mostly unfazed by such a task, throwing its best punch at Connecticut.

Unfortunately, the best punch isn’t always strong enough, and the Sparks fell just short.

A rough opening frame came back to bite the Sparks, who dropped their second straight game after winning four straight after the Olympic break. L.A. showed up defensively in the first minutes, but their offense was simply nowhere to be found. There was neither movement nor execution, with the ball just kind of hanging on the perimeter while everyone stood around.

Eventually the poor offensive sequences led to better opportunities for the Sun to score, and the Sparks defense — which remains comfortably above average — was forced to cede some points.

After giving up just four points through the first three and a half minutes of the game, L.A. allowed 16 in the final six and a half. Combined with their stagnant offense, they trailed 20-10 after the initial frame.

But while it’s fair to criticize many parts of the Sparks game, their tenacity and spirit can’t be questioned. They regrouped to start the second frame, bit down on their mouthguard defensively, and started to again make life miserable for Connecticut’s star-studded offense.

This time it led to an offense that showed up. Suddenly the ball started moving, the players started cutting, and transition opportunities arrived, leading to strong offensive performances from players like Nia Coffey (18 points), Erica Wheeler (13 points and 9 assists), and Nneka Ogwumike (13 points and 4 assists).

Starters and bench players alike found their rhythm, and it took L.A. only six minutes to not only erase the deficit, but replace it with a lead.

They finished with 29 points in the frame — one of their best offensive quarters of the season — and took a 39-36 lead into halftime. Against a team as good and hot as Connecticut, it felt like a great place to be.

Briefly in the third quarter it looked like L.A. might take the game by the horns and run with it. For a few minutes the Sparks looked energized and confident, while the Sun looked ready to go home and sink into the couch to binge watch their favorite show. They went on an 11-0 run at one point, opening up a nine-point lead.

But the Sun are holding onto the first seed for a reason, and when they needed it most, their stars flexed their muscles. Jonquel Jones, who finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, dominated in the interior on both ends of the court. Brionna Jones (23 points and 6 rebounds) and DeWanna Bonner (14 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists) were everywhere. Jasmine Thomas (13 points, 6 assists, and 4 steals) made life brutal for the Sparks’ backcourt, getting to her spots on offense and hounding the ball on defense.

Connecticut erased the lead quickly, pulled ahead, and tried to run away with things. The Sparks once again gritted their teeth — they trailed by eight with 1:20 left, but cut it to just two with half a minute remaining — but fell short.

With the loss, the Sparks fall to 10-15, and are now outside of the playoff standings with eight games remaining. For better or for worse, they’ll get their chance to exact revenge on the Sun when they play again on Saturday.