Storm able to rise, topple Sparks

In your face: Farhiya Abdi applies some real pressure defense on Seattle Storm player Abby Bishop during the WNBA home opener for the Los Angeles Sparks. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

LOS ANGELES-The 2015 WNBA home opener for the Los Angeles Sparks started off good. The ending wasn’t so good. With Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant sitting courtside at Staples Center, the Sparks surged to a 21-point first quarter against the Seattle Storm.

The Sparks and their crowd were pumped with an early lead over a team that handed them their first defeat of the season. Going into halftime, the Sparks were even more stoked with a 10-point lead after two quarters. The Sparks had it all going through the first two quarters. They played with sharp intensity on defense.

Ball movement and execution on the offensive end contributed to the Sparks’ double-digit lead.  But the game is played in four quarters, not two. As well as they played in the first half, the Sparks did the opposite in the third and fourth quarters. After scoring 34 points in the first half, the Sparks-minus Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike-could only muster 20, eight in the fourth quarter.

That was ballgame. The Storm rallied to hand the Sparks 60-54 loss, a defeat that probably hurt a little more than the 86-61 wipeout Los Angeles suffered at the hands of the greater Northwest team on June 6.

Temeka Johnson tries to get around Seattle’s Abby Bishop during the WNBA home opener for the Los Angeles Sparks. The Storm defeated the Sparks 60-54. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

“I think we have a team of perfectionists, and we want to do everything right instead of just playing basketball and getting through things,” Alana Beard said afterwards.

Trying to be perfect can sometimes come at a price where the onus is to be pinpoint accurate in every aspect of the game instead of letting things flow fluidly.  That was clearly illustrated in the Sparks’ play in both halves. When the Sparks raced out to a 21-15 first quarter lead, they turned the ball over just once. In contrast, the final quarter resulted in the Sparks committing six turnovers and scoring just eight points to the Storm’s 18.

Beard, who finished the game with 10 points and five rebounds, felt the team was pressing a bit.

“Individually, everyone is trying to make plays instead of sticking to the offense and working our way through it and trusting each other,” Beard said. “But it will come. In the first half, we did a great job executing (scout defensively. We had a ten-point lead because we played defense. We got stops.  In the second half [we] came out…they had runs. We gave them runs. We couldn’t string together stops. On the offensive end, we were pretty stagnant. ”

Marianna Tolo goes up for a shot against the Seattle Storm. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Both teams didn’t shoot the ball particularly well as the field goal percentages hovered around 38 percent. But where the Storm took control of the game was at the free throw line. The Storm, as a team, connected on 12 of 17 free throw attempts compared to the 5 of 9 trips the Sparks made to the charity stripe. The Sparks also got burned behind the arc where Seattle’s Abby Bishop earned the bulk of her game-high 18 points.

Bishop made four 3-point attempts. She scored 13 of her 18 points in the second half.

“In the second half, she kind of had her way. She kind of came down and did what she wanted,” said Sparks forward Jantel Lavender. “Abby Bishop was popping from extremely far, and the lane was open from our help side defense and she started to hit shots. It was a couple of miscommunication(s) on switches with her. The lane was open and then we were miscommunicating on the switch for her to hit those threes. [It’s] just a constant work at it every day, getting in the gym, working on our defensive rotations and making sure we’re there to help our teammates.”


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