Sparks fall to Sun in Game 1 of WNBA semifinals

Connecticut's Brionna Jones, left, fouls Sparks guard Alana Beard.
Connecticut’s Brionna Jones, left, fouls Sparks guard Alana Beard during Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals Tuesday.
(Associated Press)

A veteran roster with players who had enjoyed playoff success seemed to give the Sparks an advantage going into Tuesday’s WNBA semifinals opener against the Connecticut Sun.

It didn’t play out that way, though, with the Sparks’ poor ballhandling costing them in an 84-75 loss at Mohegan Sun Arena in front of an announced 7,102.

Candace Parker scored 24 points and Nneka Ogwumike added 20, but the third-seeded Sparks committed 19 turnovers to drop Game 1 of the best-of-five series to the second-seeded Sun.

“We just can’t turn the ball over — 19 is high for us,” Parker said.


The Sun host Game 2 on Thursday before the series shifts to Long Beach for Game 3 on Sunday.

“We still shot the ball better percentage-wise than them, but they won the game,” said first-year Sparks coach Derek Fisher, whose team defeated defending WNBA champion Seattle in a single-elimination second-round game Sunday. “At the end of the day, we have to figure out how to limit our turnovers.

“They had 14 more [field-goal attempts] than we did because of us turning the basketball over, and it’s hard to beat a team on the road when you turn the ball over almost 20 times.”

The Sparks shot 46.9% from the field compared with 42.3% for the Sun, but Connecticut picked up its first playoff win since 2012 with more scoring opportunities and a balanced attack.

Connecticut's Brionna Jones, left, and Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike reach for the ball.
Connecticut’s Brionna Jones, left, and Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike reach for the ball during the first half.
(Associated Press)

The Sun, who received a double-bye into the semifinals, scored 10 points off the turnovers.

Four Connecticut starters finished in double figures scoring. Forward Alyssa Thomas had a team-high 22 points along with 10 rebounds. Center Jonquel Jones added 16 points, while the backcourt of Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams scored 19 and 15, respectively.

The Sparks’ backcourt struggled with Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray shooting a combined three for 17 from the field and scoring a total of six points. The duo came into the game averaging more than 26 points combined.

“Our focus coming in was on defense, period,” Jasmine Thomas said. “That’s where we pride ourselves — play tough defense and disrupt.”

Guard Sydney Wiese scored eight points off the bench for the Sparks.

“We needed some addition scoring for sure,” Fisher said. “[We have other players] capable of scoring points, but we couldn’t sustain it particularly from our backcourt.

Two weeks into the season, a string of injuries has exhausted the Chargers’ depth and thrust players into strange positions. Can they survive?

“We have to figure out how to get them more high-efficient shots over the course of the game.”

The Sparks still had their chances. After Los Angeles trailed 25-14 early in the second quarter, Parker and Ogwumike brought the Sparks back to lead 40-37 at the break.

Ogwumike had 13 points in the first half, while Parker added 12, including five of the final seven for her team.

The Sun came out firing to open the third quarter, sinking three three-pointers — two from Shekinna Stricklen — during an 11-2 run to go ahead 48-42 with 7:41 remaining.

Fisher was forced to burn a timeout and was animated in the huddle.

“He told us at halftime we can’t come out slow, so we came out slow and he called that timeout to put a little water on the fire,” said Ogwumike, who tied Parker with a team-high 10 rebounds. “After that, we kind of snapped back into it, but we can’t afford to be that lax, especially coming out of the half.”

The Sparks again came back, leading by one point twice late in the third quarter before Connecticut slowly pulled away in the fourth. Gray’s jump shot got Los Angeles to within 68-66 with 5:27 left, but the Sun outscored the Sparks 16-9 the rest of the way.