In the eternal rest vs. rust debate, score one for rust.
The Sparks, fresh off a seven-day break since their last game, looked completely out of sorts to start their contest against the league-leading Connecticut Sun. Need a win to continue to control its playoff destiny, L.A. instead conceded the first 17 points of the game, a hole that proved insurmountable in the team’s 75-57 loss, as the team never got within single digits again.
Nneka Ogwumike and Nia Coffey tied for the team lead with 12 points apiece. The Sparks have now lost six in a row and are one game back of the New York Liberty for the eighth seed, and their 18-game winning streak at Staples Center dating back to 2019 has come to an end.
Connecticut’s size was overwhelming early. Jonquel Jones, the frontrunner for MVP, scored 10 points in the first quarter compared to eight for L.A. Jones finished the game with 21 points and 13 rebounds.No Spark was able to provide meaningful resistance on the 6’6 big once she got the ball in the post, and Jones was similarly destructive on the other end, swatting away entry passes with ease.
The Sparks didn’t make their lives any easier by starting a little small on the perimeter. Rather than go with the Brittney Sykes/Coffey wing tandem that worked to great effect against Minnesota, L.A. played the 5’8 Te’a Cooper in Coffey’s place. That left the Sparks undersized at every position, specifically at small forward, with Sykes giving up seven inches to DeWanna Bonner. That size difference manifested itself on the glass, as L.A. was outrebounded 10-4 in the opening period.
Erica Wheeler was rendered particularly ineffective against the length of Briann January and Jasmine Thomas, and the rest of the team suffered across the board. Nneka Ogwumike was also flustered by Jones inside, Cooper missed a couple of finishes at the cup.
Once the Sparks started to play bigger — their first set of subs brought Coffey and Arella Guirantes in on the wing for Sykes and Cooper — the game stabilized. The problem was that they’d already dug themselves a 12-point hole at the first timeout, before they even scored their first point.
In the second quarter, L.A.’s undoing was its inability to defend without fouling. Sun got in the bonus with four minutes left in the half and took 18 free throws, making 17. Amanda Zahui B. picked up her fourth foul after only eight minutes of play, leaving L.A. further deficient from a size perspective, especially once Chiney Ogwumike was unable to return after halftime.
As a result, the Sparks were forced to go small with Coffey in place of Zahui B. to start the second half. At least this lineup had a speed advantage over Connecticut, which worked in Wheeler’s favor on offense. Still, the defense failed to contain the Sun bigs once the entry passes were made, and the height advantage on the perimeter made those entries fairly straightforward.
Connecticut got into the bonus again with four minutes to play in the third and made a living at the foul line once more. From then, it was mostly academic. All that was left to be decided was the final score.
The Sparks return to the court Sunday against Seattle for their final home game of the season.