A complete game for the Sparks
Saturday night, I think it happened. The Sparks played the Connecticut Sun in Connecticut and came away with the 89-80 win — our second road win of the season. The lead changed five times in the first quarter, but once the Sparks took the lead with three minutes left in the first quarter, we never relinquished it.
We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played a complete game, competing hard for 40 full minutes on both ends of the court. Everything that wasn’t working for us against Indiana on Thursday worked just fine on Saturday. We established our perimeter game from the start, with our first nine points coming via three-pointers from Marie Ferdinand-Harris, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson. With Noelle Quinn and Kristi Toliver, the five of them went on to connect on a total of 15 three-point baskets, shooting as a team over 51% from outside. A total of 18 of our 27 first quarter points came from outside the arc.
We also took very good care of the ball in the first half, when we had only two turnovers and six steals, while the Sun had almost the opposite: two steals and nine turnovers. By the time the horn blew signaling the end of the half, we were up 45-35, building on our seven-point first quarter lead, and playing together.
Of course, as any Sparks fan who has been paying attention knows, the game is not over at halftime. Anything can happen in the second half of a Sparks game. When we started off the third quarter with a layup, a steal and a block, and the Sun opened with two turnovers and a foul, I felt pretty good. And then Noelle Quinn, who lately has been struggling a little to score, and only had one first-half point, put up her fourth shot attempt of the night from beyond the arc and it fell straight to the bottom of the net, giving the Sparks a 15-point lead, I felt very good. We pushed the lead to 17 late in the quarter, but the Sun fought back and in the last minute and a half scored seven quick points to cut the lead back to the ten it had been at the start.
Ten more minutes of basketball, with the Sparks up by 10, playing hard for the first 30 minutes. Here was their chance to play a complete 40 minutes. The fourth quarter opened with a reverse of the third. The Sun continued their scoring run from the end of the third, scoring 5 quick points, while we had two quick turnovers and suddenly our ten point lead was cut in half. Then Noelle stepped up yet again and connected from long range to push it back up to eight. After another Sun layup, Kelsey Griffin from the Sun got free to score a three, cutting the lead to three, but Toliver answered back with one of her own and the battle of the fourth quarter was on.
The Sun cut the lead to four with just over six minutes left in the game, but both teams went on a scoring drought, letting three minutes run off the clock before anyone scored again. Like the Sparks on Thursday, the Sun could not get anything to fall. In that three-minute stretch, they took seven futile shots and did not score again until just over two and a half minutes were left in the game. The Sparks stayed calm, together and in the moment, eventually driving the lead back up to 10 with just under a minute left in the game. I admit, I was still a little worried. I had seen how quickly the Sun could score and they are fighting hard for their playoff spot in the East, and I am sure counting on this game to go in their win column. But finally the Sun had to start fouling and I knew we had it. Forty full minutes of team basketball by the Sparks with five of our players in double-digit scoring and 24 assists on our 30 baskets. A complete game.
Now we just have to do that 11 more times.