Sparks lead Mercury 2-0, can close out series in Phoenix

LONG BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Brittney Griner
LONG BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Brittney Griner /

The Los Angeles Sparks doubled down on their success in the paint in these WNBA semifinals. 40 points in the paint in Game 1 ballooned to 50 in Game 2. Down 2-0 in this best of five series, the Phoenix Mercury head home with their backs against the wall.

Phoenix turned it over 18 times (12 in the second half) and the Sparks were able to turn those opportunities into 28 points. The Sparks can clinch a return trip to the WNBA Finals with one more win.

A few takeaways from Thursday at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach:

Leaving ’em open

Angel Robinson got 10 minutes of run off the bench for Phoenix compared to just two on Tuesday. “I thought Angel gave us some good minutes tonight. She gives us another athletic big.” Sandy Brondello said postgame.

In the halfcourt, one of Phoenix’s larger challenges in this series lies in finding ways to score when a hard double is sent at Brittney Griner. “Our post players around BG—obviously they’re leaving them open.” Brondello said.

Griner cited a few encouraging moments from Game 2 and talked about playing with patience against double teams. “Camille [Little] knocked down that shot towards the end. [Danielle Robinson] cut in there. We just have to have more people cutting in, going to open gaps. They’re giving us the open gaps, we just have to find them and take our time.”

Little, Danielle Robinson, Angel Robinson and Emma Cannon will need to give the Mercury a lift by finding those gaps and attacking to score. Naturally, the Sparks are going to lock in much more on Diana Taurasi and Leilani Mitchell away from the ball to take away easy catch-and-shoot threes.

Brondello spoke on what the team will need those players to do. “We’ve gotta make sure we can put them in positions to be a threat. You have to take those open looks when they’re there. So getting within the right positions within your range, you take those looks and we live with it, whatever happens. Because sometimes that’s going to be the best shot that we can get.”


The Sparks scored 40 points in the paint in Game 1. Brondello pointed out that disparity on Tuesday night. The Sparks only built on that success the next time out, scoring 50 points in the paint on Thursday. “I thought offensively, tonight we were better. More aggressive, moved the ball better.” Brian Agler said afterwards.

“We did a really good job on the offensive glass. We were efficient with only 11 turnovers.” Agler said when asked if his team was playing its best ball. “I do think we can keep getting better. I envision that. And we’re going to keep improving.”

Much of this series has been made on the back side. Odyssey Sims has carved Phoenix up after receiving a skip pass. Chelsea Gray (the regular season 3PT% leader) was the recipient of an extra pass from Candace Parker to drill an open corner three to put LA up 11 with 4:42 to play.

Parker and Nneka Ogwumike draw plenty of doubles inside. Their guards, led by Gray and Sims draw extra defenders with what they can do off the bounce. It’s rare to see a shooter as good as Gray wide open for a three, like that one she hit in the final five minutes. But that’s part of what makes the Sparks special—they can attack you from anywhere with anyone.

Make ’em see bodies

To continue from that last point, Griner was asked about the tough tradeoff she faces in trying to protect the basket then recover to Parker or Ogwumike, who shoot it very well from the outside. Ogwumike also hit a big fourth quarter triple.

The Sparks came away with a steal early in the period, and on the ensuing possession, Ogwumike would put the Sparks up 7 from the right corner. Phoenix had gone on a solid run to trim LA’s lead to four in the final period. Gray struck from the same spot just minutes later. Both treys were assisted by Parker.

When LA’s guards are slicing through the lane, Griner can’t do it all. Parker and Ogwumike are too good, even when spotting up behind the three point line. Maybe the Mercury will need to live with seeing the Sparks get up a few more open/semi-contested threes. The Mercury need to do more to cut off dribble penetration.

“They have to see bodies when they go to the rim.” Griner said. “Not just mine. They have to see all of us.”

Back in action

Riquna Williams (knee strain) was back in action for the Sparks. She played five minutes off the bench. This was Williams’ first game action since an August 6th.

The series will continue from Phoenix on Sunday for Game 3 at 5 PM EST on ESPN.