As if the Sparks haven’t been reminded enough, their game Tuesday provided another indication of the challenges they face sitting on the playoff bubble.
This reminder came in the form of a mirror image. In a 72-69 victory over the Washington Mystics at Staples Center, the Sparks played host to a team that’s also been rattled this season with inconsistency, losing four of their last five games.
Both teams are on the edge of either slipping through a closing door into the postseason or having the door slam in their face.
On Tuesday, it was the Sparks (10-13) who improved their postseason chances with their second consecutive win for the second time this season. They made nine free throws in the final 2 minutes 35 seconds to clinch the victory.
With 11 games remaining, the Sparks are half a game behind the Minnesota Lynx and San Antonio Silver Stars, who both have 11-13 records.
“We’re going to win this whole thing,” Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said five days after he thought the team’s playoff chances were dim following a loss to Sacramento. “Our chance of winning this thing is just as good as anybody.”
Not only are the Sparks considering tie-breaking implications when it comes to postseason positioning, they are also cognizant that other teams on the bubble, such as the Mystics, are playing with more urgency too.
That was especially apparent in the final quarter of Tuesday’s game, when the Sparks’ biggest lead was six points. Mystics guard Alana Beard airballed a potential game-tying three-pointer, but Sparks forward Candace Parker fouled guard Lindsey Harding on the tip-in to reduce the Sparks’ lead to 70-69 with 11.4 seconds left. Parker grabbed Harding’s missed free throw, and then secured the victory with two foul shots.
Parker finished with her fourth double-double in the last six games, with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Center Lisa Leslie scored a team-high 20 points and was the only Sparks player to shoot above 50%.
Meanwhile, the Sparks received bench support from forwards Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who had nine points in the fourth quarter, and Noelle Quinn with seven points.
The Sparks, entering the game with the league’s second-best defense, held the Mystics to one field goal for the last 5:44 of the first quarter and last 4:12 of the second quarter.
Though Washington featured three players in double figures, with Matee Ajavon (20 points), Harding (19 points) and Beard (10 points), the Mystics overall finished with a 37.5% shooting percentage.
Despite the Sparks’ strong start to the second half, when they scored nine unanswered points and held a 42-31 lead at the 5:50 mark, the Mystics closed to within three by the end of the third quarter.
And like any team on the playoff bubble, they fought to the very end. This time, though, the bubble team from Los Angeles prevailed.
Said Parker: “The energy that we played with tonight, we need to match that every night.”