Even Staples Center hasn’t been an easy place for the Sparks to play in this season. And this is their home court.
A down-to-the-last possession 69-65 overtime win against the New York Liberty on Tuesday kept the Sparks perfect on their home court (5-0) in 2004, but not one of those wins has been easy.
Mwadi Mabika, who had a season-high 26 points, rescued the Sparks from an upset when she made a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the score at 61-61. She scored six points in overtime, including three free throws in the final 8.6 seconds to seal the victory and put the Sparks (10-6) within percentage points of first-place Seattle in the Western Conference.
“I just threw it up there. I didn’t even know who was on me,” said Mwadi, who made the buzzer-beating three over Liberty rookie Shameka Christon.
“Mwadi’s always done that,” said Spark Coach Michael Cooper, when asked about the basket that forced the overtime. “She hit a big shot in Phoenix last year to win a game for us there. She’s been a big-shot shooter for us her whole career here.”
Tuesday’s game was in keeping with the last three Spark home games. Los Angeles works its way through a sluggish first half, claws its way back into the game in the second half, takes a lead, loses the lead but eventually finds a way to victory.
Cooper said Spark fans, including the 9,279 at the game Tuesday, better get used to it.
“We don’t expect anything easy this year,” he said. “We’re not the champions, but people still see us as a championship team. I think we are gauged by that. Anyone who comes in here feels if they’re going to win a championship they have to play to our level. That’s what teams do.”
The Liberty (7-8), which had a game-high 27 points from Elena Baranova and 16 from Becky Hammon, probably deserved a better fate Tuesday. Despite missing key front court veterans Tari Phillips (broken right hand) and Crystal Robinson (broken right pinkie), the visitors played a solid game and led most of the time.
“It was a heartbreaking loss for us,” Liberty Coach Richie Adubato said.
“Mwadi Mabika made a big shot or else we would have had the win. We played without two starters and I am very proud of the players that came in and stepped it up.”
New York didn’t look like it would miss Phillips or Robinson, or the basket in the first half. Three of New York’s first four baskets were three-pointers; that along with an early 10-0 spurt put the Liberty up, 16-7, at the 14:56 mark.
But despite the excellent shooting by New York as a whole (13 of 24, 54.2%), the Sparks only trailed, 32-28, at the half.
Los Angeles was doing just enough on defense, forcing 10 turnovers, and scoring just enough on offense (11 of 31, 35.5%) to be within reach.
And the Sparks had to figure they would heat up in the second half.
The Liberty never did, shooting 46.2% for the game. And the Sparks didn’t get that hot, finishing at 36.2%.
But, at least at Staples Center, the Sparks can’t lose. Even if it isn’t easy.