Sparks tested but win 80-72 in 2018 home opener

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 27: Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker (3) during a WNBA game between the Los Angeles Saprks and the Phoenix Mercury, on May 27, 2018, at Staples Center, in Los Angeles, CA (Photo by Jordon Kelly/fi360news)

Los Angeles, CA- The Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury have a rivalry brewing, and although it’s not at the level as its rivalry with the Minnesota Lynx, the Mercury have posed a tough test for the Sparks over the years.

“You got Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi,” said Sparks guard Elana Beard. “Those are two of the top players in this league.”

The Sparks were battled and tested in its 2018 home opener but its defense down the stretch allowed them to earn an 80-72 victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Mercury was down by as many as 10 points after a Chelsea Gray free throw with 5:14 left in the third quarter. The Sparks let their guard down defensively, allowing Phoenix to run its offensive sets. The Mercury eliminated that deficit with an 11-1 run.

“We weren’t making them do different things on offense,” said Beard. “

The home team came out more focused on defense in the 4th quarter. It’s ball pressure forced several tipped balls for transition baskets.

“We upped our intensity,” said Beard. “As a team, we committed to getting in the passing lanes, pressuring the ball and just getting our hands on passes.”

Chelsea Gray was a force offensively the entire contest for the Sparks. Once Parker was on the floor, Gray had enough space to display her excellent one-on-one skills. Gray finished the game with 21 points and 9 assists.

Mercury’s length was a problem for the Sparks early on. LA trailed 9-3 before head coach Brian Agler inserted Parker into the game with 7 minutes to go in the 1st quarter.

“We just try to make things difficult for her,” said Parker. “It’s just about making her do what she doesn’t want to do and contesting every shot.”

The Sparks welcome the defending champs, Minnesota Lynx. Gray hit a shot at the buzzer to propel the Sparks 77-76 on the night the Lynx were awarded their rings.