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    Sparks outlast Aces in OT, snap 8-game losing streak
    • July 6, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — Composure. That’s what Sparks coach Curt Miller wanted from his team against the two-time defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena.

    The Sparks’ 98-93 overtime victory was a masterclass in perseverance, the team’s first win since June 9 (also against the Aces) ending a franchise record-tying eight-game losing streak.

    “Super proud of this group,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said who applauded his team for only allowing three turnovers in 45 minutes. “Just played with a toughness and grittiness from start to finish.”

    All-Star forward Dearica Hamby’s three-point play put the Sparks ahead 95-90 with 24.1 seconds left in overtime, but Aces All-Star Jackie Young responded with a 3-pointer that cut the margin to two points with 20 seconds remaining. Hamby missed a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds left, but Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson grabbed the offensive rebound and Sparks guard Aari McDonald made two free throws for a 97-93 lead with 7.8 seconds remaining.

    “I think that we stayed together,” McDonald said. “Vegas had their runs and we expected that but the difference from (Friday night) and Tuesday, we stayed together. We communicated and I think that we minimized their stops but we were also executing and scoring.”

    “When we’re moving the ball, playing together and playing aggressively on both ends of the floor, good things happen,” Jackson added.

    Aces center A’ja Wilson missed a desperation 3-pointer with three seconds left, then Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon made one of two free throws to close out the win.

    Sparks forward Stephanie Talbot’s game-tying mid-range jump shot tied the score at 84-all with 3.8 seconds left in regulation. Aces All-Star guard Kelsey Plum missed what would have been a game-winning shot as time expired to send the game to an extra period.

    Both teams battled shot for shot to begin overtime. The score was tied at 90-all with 2:07 left in the 5-minute overtime, then the Sparks went ahead on a Clarendon floater with 1:08 left to set up the final minute.

    Hamby finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds against her former team, her 13th double-double of the season. Guard Aari McDonald had a career-high 23 points. Jackson, a rookie, had 14 points. Talbot added 13 points and nine assists, including the go-ahead dish to Hamby. The Sparks won despite shooting 37.6% from the field (32 for 85), including 11 for 31 from 3-point range, anchored by taking 19 more shots than the Aces and won the turnover margin (12-3).

    Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, had 35 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots to pace the Aces (12-7), who saw their six-game winning streak end. Plum had 21 points and Young added 18.

    The Sparks (5-15), who led by 15 points (53-38) early in the third quarter, saw their lead cut to 57-50 a few minutes later. However, McDonald scored five of her team’s next nine points as the hosts regained a double-digit cushion (66-54) late in the third. McDonald added a fancy layup with 3.9 seconds left for a 70-60 heading into the fourth quarter.

    However, the Aces opened the fourth on a 15-4 run, with a layup and three-point play by Wilson and 3-pointers from Plum and Young, and took a 75-74 lead with 5:44 left. Hamby and Wilson took turns giving their team the lead, then Talbot’s corner 3-pointer tied it at 79.

    Plum put the Aces ahead 81-79, but Hamby tied the score at 81 with 2:01 remaining. Coach Miller was called for a technical foul after Hamby’s hard-earned basket and Plum made the technical free throw for an 82-81 Aces lead. Hamby was fouled by Wilson with less than a minute to play, and the three-time All-Star made one of two free throws, tying the score again with 37.1 seconds left.

    Former Sparks point guard Chelsea Gray, who signed with the Aces as a free agent before the 2022 season, dropped a backdoor inbounds pass to Wilson for a go-ahead layup. Gray finished with three points and six assists. The Aces led 84-82 with 15.2 seconds remaining.

    The Sparks, who outscored the Aces 25-12 in the second quarter, closed the first half on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a three-point play by Hamby. The Sparks led 46-36 at halftime. Hamby had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists in the first half. Jackson added 12 points early.

    “We’ve got to match them right from the tip,” Miller said before the game. “We’ve got to go right at them.”

    However, the Aces began the game on a 7-0 run, which forced Miller to call a timeout with 7:36 left in the first quarter.

    “It’s composure through runs, that’s the thing,” Miller continued. “You’ve got to step up and make plays defensively to stop runs but you can also stop runs by executing and having an efficient offensive possession or two and runs can be stopped. There’s got to be a composure and I think that’s the big word for our team.”

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    The Sparks responded with their own 7-0 run and eventually trailed just 24-21 at the end of the first.

    Miller desperately wanted his team, which is openly rebuilding through the draft, to find a way to play winning basketball.

    “My frustration at times isn’t as much at times with them. It’s frustrating that I can’t help them more,” Miller revealed. “I just feel really defeated at times with myself. This is not new to me, building teams and understanding what you go through with teams, but I feel like I haven’t always pushed the right buttons for them.”

    Aces coach Becky Hammon, speaking before the game, said both teams are always motivated to play because each matchup is always personal.

    “Dearica played for us. I think there’s personal feelings involved sometimes,” Hammon said. “Curt coached me in college. I’ve known Curt since I was 19.”

    ​ Orange County Register 

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