Los Angeles Sparks 92 @ Tulsa Shock 89
Lineups: Los Angeles stayed with the big group that has produced better results recently, with Candace Parker at small forward and point guard Lindsey Harding coming off the bench. Kristi Toliver was back from her obligations with Slovakia in EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifying to give them an extra reserve option. The only player still missing from the Sparks is guard Candice Wiggins, still recovering from surgery on her left knee. Tulsa have their own backup guard out with Riquna Williams still struggling to return from her bruised knee. Forward Tiffany Jackson-Jones hasn’t played all season after surgery on her shin.
Story of the Game: LA were on top throughout the first half. Tulsa couldn’t find their range from outside, so the only points they produced were when they found their way through LA’s still relatively porous defense. At the other end, the most impressive element of LA’s offense was their balance. For once they weren’t relying on one player getting hot and carrying them – instead they were playing with good energy, and everyone was chipping in when they had the chance. Eight Sparks saw some playing time in the first half, all of them had at least one field goal, and LA led by 15 at the break.
But then there was the third quarter. Oh dear. Sparks head coach Carol Ross can use the tape of that ten minutes to shame her team whenever she feels the need to wake them up for the rest of the season. The LA defense was flat-out embarrassing in the third, giving up so many layups that the game just became a procession to the hoop for Tulsa. Over and over again, Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims were driving right through the lane and finishing at the basket, with defenders waving at them as they went by – and the help behind virtually nonexistent. Credit Tulsa for coming out strong from the locker room, but LA were playing a central role in their own downfall. Their 15-point lead was wiped out in under seven minutes.
LA actually produced a little decent offense of their own in the third, using Parker as a passer to Nneka Ogwumike on high-low link-ups after the ball was rotated back up from the wing. And Parker was also passing nicely when the Sparks got out on the break, where she always loves to bring the ball up the floor and fling it around. But a game they’d been dominating was a contest again because of their dismal team defense.
The start of the fourth didn’t go much better for LA, as Parker was twice in a row found desperately wanting on the defensive end while Jordan Hooper drilled threes. That’s a matchup that’s meant to be a mismatch in LA’s favour, but we really haven’t seen enough of Parker on the low block since she started playing so many minutes at small forward. She’s usually across from much smaller defenders, but seems happier trying to face them up or shoot over them, rather than use her significant physical edge. And now she was giving up threes at the other end as well – to the extent that later in the fourth Ogwumike was switched over to chase Hooper around, while Parker moved inside to defend Glory Johnson.
At times this felt like a streetball game, with both teams much more inclined to expend energy running the floor to score than they were to use it getting back to defend. Tulsa led for most of the fourth, but couldn’t pull away. Courtney Paris finished a putback off her own miss with a minute left for a four-point lead, but a Harding jumper, a poor Shock possession that ended in a shot-clock violation, and a lovely bounce-pass from Toliver for a Jantel Lavender layup tied the scores with 17 seconds left. Diggins tried to run the clock down, but it went a little too long when Armintie Herrington managed to poke the ball away and then use LA’s foul-to-give. It left the Shock with only 4 seconds to inbound again and create something, and an off-balance heave from Sims wasn’t close. On to overtime, for the third time in a row in Shock games.
Much of OT was oddly low-scoring considering the poor defense that had been played for most of the night. But Tulsa’s guards appeared to be tiring, and many of those drives that they’d finished earlier in the game weren’t being completed any more. After starting with Harding and Herrington in the backcourt for overtime, Ross made the smart move to introduce Toliver after a couple of minutes, which gave LA some much-needed punch to their offense. She got two at the line after being fouled on a drive, then drilled a big three to take the lead with barely a minute left.