Magic was in the stands, but there was no magic on the court for the Sparks on Sunday evening.
In front of the team's new owner, Magic Johnson, the Sparks were swept out of the playoffs by the Phoenix Mercury, 93-68, in Game 2 of their best-of-three Western Conference semifinals series.
The Mercury had control the entire game, leading by as many as 30 points and never trailing. They outshot the Sparks, 53.5% to 46.7%, and outrebounded them, 34-25. It wasn't what Johnson had in mind when he and his investment group purchased the team in February, promising to return the championship trophy to L.A.
“Rome isn't built in a day,” said Candace Parker, who finished with a team-high 21 points and five rebounds. “We realize that with this group coming in, they built the Dodgers and the Dodgers are doing well. We feel like they can do the same for us.”
Considering the way the Sparks played Sunday, that's going to be a tall order.
The Sparks were a dreadful one-for-12 from beyond the three-point arc, and they committed 14 turnovers, which led to 23 points for the Mercury.
Our transition defense tonight was horrific,” said Sparks General Manager and Coach Penny Toler. “It's one thing to turn the ball over, but get back on defense If you don't get back on defense, you're going to pay the piper.”
Boy, did they.
Four of the Mercury's five starters finished in double figures. Brittney Griner had 21 points on perfect nine-for-nine shooting, Penny Taylor had 17 points, Candice Dupree had 16 points and eight rebounds, and DeWanna Bonner added 11 points.
The Sparks, however, did have one bright spot on defense. They limited Diana Taurasi to nine points compared with the playoff-best 34 points she scored in Friday's 75-72 Game 1 win for the Mercury.
Besides Parker, the only other Sparks player to score in double figures was Nneka Ogwumike, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
Parker pointed to the fact that the team's season started off on a strange foot when former Sparks owner Paula Madison decided in January to sell the team.
“We didn't know where we were going to be in January,” Parker said. We didn't know if we were going to have a team, if we were going be in L.A., if we were going to be playing for different organizations.”
Johnson, of course, swooped in and saved L.A's WNBA team, but the season did not go as expected. The Sparks finished with a record of 16-18, clinching the fourth and final Western Conference playoff position on the final game of the regular season.
“We blew games early in the season, we lost games, we weren't focused coming in, we didn't rebound all season,” Parker said. “You can't do that and expect to win.”
Especially against a team as skilled as the Mercury.