Subs help Sparks rediscover sparkle

Sparks forward Candace Parker, right, talks to teammate Nneka Ogwumike, left, during the first half of a game against the Connecticut Sun on May 26.
(Jessica Hill / Associated Press)

When the final buzzer sounded, the Sparks’ starters quickly celebrated before retreating to the locker room.

Two of them would normally be plucked out of the crowd for postgame inter- views, but that duty was instead fulfilled by Chelsea Gray and Jantel Lavender.

For good reason. Bench players Gray and Lavender had everything to do with a 90-85 win by the Sparks (25-8) over the Phoenix Mercury (14-18) at Staples Center on Tuesday night. The pair combined for 40 points — Gray with a career-high 23, Lavender with 17 — and fueled a late comeback that ended a three-game losing streak. They shot a combined 16 for 19.

Nneka Ogwumike paced the Sparks with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

“That’s great for us,” Sparks Coach Brian Angler said of Gray and Lavender’s performance. “That’s great depth that we have.”


The Mercury used its length to bother Ogwumike and Candace Parker, the Sparks’ top offensive wea-pons. Ogwumike was blanketed by 6-foot-9 center Britt-ney Griner. Parker was mostly guarded by 6-4 forward DeWanna Bonner, who used her long arms to contest shots and clog passing lanes.

The Mercury’s size advantage forced the Sparks to look elsewhere for an early rhythm, and the bench provided it.

Center Lavender and guard Gray injected life into an offense that was otherwise flat throughout the first half. Lavender stretched out the Mercury with her midrange jumper. Gray banked in a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and did damage knifing into the lane.

The Mercury led 47-39 at the half, and bench play let the Sparks hang around.

“Before every game we say, ‘Bench power,’” Gray said. “We just have to bring something into the game every time we step on the court.”

Out of the break, the Mercury stretched its lead to 14 before Agler subbed Lavender and Gray back into the game.

The Sparks slowly climbed back into it, with Lavender netting four quick points and Gray running the offense. The Sparks had a 15-8 run to end the third quarter and Gray scored 13 in the fourth to help complete the comeback. Gray hit a three to give the Sparks a permanent lead at 80-77.