Sparks vs. Liberty recap: Three takeaways

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19: Nneka Ogwumike
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19: Nneka Ogwumike /

NEW YORK—Watching the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty do battle Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, a 90-75  L.A. win, it appeared that the Sparks figured out some of their early-season struggles, while the Liberty continue to bounce back and forth between good and mediocre performances.

Of course, the early play by the Lynx, Mystics and Storm would argue both New York and Los Angeles had some work to do to get themselves back into that conversation. And the game loomed as particularly important for a Liberty team about to lose both Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn to overseas commitments.

Making Sparks Sparks Again

The Sparks opened the fourth by going to their core principles. First Nneka Ogwumike grabbed a rebound and put it back. Then Alana Beard robbed Bria Hartley and took it the other way for a layup. Beard followed that possession with an old-fashioned three-point play.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 19: Elena Delle Donne
LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 19: Elena Delle Donne /

For a team that entered the game atop the league in offensive efficiency, but eleventh in defense—unfathomable for a Brian Agler team—the regression to the norm came at a moment in the game that proved decisive. Threes by Riquna Williams and Candace Parker, the latter on an impossible stepback move, and suddenly a tight game had spiraled.

Liberty Drought

The offensive limitations of the Liberty helped make that possible. Simply put, the Liberty require Tina Charles to not only do most of the scoring, but absent a legitimate point guard, to create most of her own shots as well. And she’s a brilliant offensive mind, so she managed to do that in the first half, scoring 19 by midway through the second quarter and looking like a good bet to top her career-high of 32.

But then came the Los Angeles physical onslaught defensively—seriously, not only do they play big, their primary guards, Chelsea Gray and Alana Beard, are both 5’11—and Charles simply couldn’t do it all herself. Prince creates plenty, but she’s about to go overseas. So where do the points come from beyond Charles and Sugar Rodgers, not just against the Sparks, but anytime the Liberty play?

Time for more Allen, Zahui B

One possible answer for the Liberty is more time on the court for Amanda Zahui B. and Rebecca Allen. The former did not play Tuesday night until the final two minutes, the latter saw just over five minutes of action. It was puzzling not to see more of Zahui B. against a big team, especially during the second half when Charles was struggling to get her shot and the Sparks could sag off of Kiah Stokes. And Allen, who made nearly 57 percent of her threes last year and adds an element of athleticism at the three, would seem to be a perfect matchup to counter Essence Carson against Los Angeles. So if she’s not getting extended minutes in this one, when will it happen?