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Wheelers’ clutch hoop lifts shorthanded Sparks over Mercury


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Los Angeles, CA — You know when you get the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury on the same court, the result is going to be nothing short of epic.

Wednesday night’s game at the STAPLES Center was no exception. Although the pandemic made an impact on the fan turnout, there were still stands full of fans both masked and unmasked.  Los Angeles officially opened back up yesterday but there were still temperature checks at the door for safety.  The game was a complete battle as this has been during the history of both teams franchise back in 1997.

Let’s start with both teams rocking BLACK LIVES MATTER apparel during shoot-around. The WNBA continues support for important issues outside of basketball.  Knowing the history of these two teams, you almost expect the game to be a toss-up.

It’s hard to tell who will show up with this type of injury plaguing each roster.  Despite that, both teams were full steam ahead right after the jump ball.  Sophie Cunningham started the game for Phoenix with back-to-back threes. The Sparks suffered with both Ogwumike sisters (Chiney and Nneka) out with knee injuries while the Mercury were also short-handed due to injuries to Bria Hartley (knee injury) and Diana Taurasi (sternum injury).

Skylar Diggins-Smith continued to display her poise on the court as she found her open players patiently.  Brittney Griner remained unstoppable in the paint with her easy baseline finger roll.  The looks of it are as if she’s toying with her defender each time.  Even when she is fouled she finds a way to make the layup and gain the free-throw opportunity.

The first half of the game included many highlights from both teams, but it seems that the Sparks took advantage of the open spots on the court.  The Mercury had some issues with allowing the Sparks second chance points which really hurt them because they were down by 10 points at halftime.  That just happened to be the exact amount of point difference of both teams’ 2nd chance opportunities.

Sophie Cunningham went in with her shooting talents early in the second half with draining her first shot attempt then again when she had a wide open corner chance.  The hardest part about watching the Mercury is the confusion on why Griner wasn’t utilized more.  She clearly cannot be guarded and scores with ease but of course that height also requires some breathers as well.  Erica Wheeler, making an impressive comeback after missing last season due to COVID-19, provided the expected spark in the fourth quarter for Los Angeles, making an impressive drive to the basket mixed with a change of speed then a few minutes later draining a deep three pointer.

The Sparks pulled out the win with the score being 85-80. Top scorers for each squad included Brittney Griner with 30 points and 10 rebounds.  She was also 10-of-12 from the charity stripe.  Sophie Cunningham shot an astounding 3-for 6 from the three point line as she finished with 16 points.  Skylar Diggins-Smith finished with 15 points and 10 assists.  As far as the Sparks, the leader for tonight was Erica Wheeler with 18 points and 10 assists.  Kristi Toliver finished with 17 points and Amanda Zahui B put in 15 points.

LA Sparks GM/Head Coach Derek Fisher stated a “phenomenal performance” by Erica Wheeler as she recorded her first career double-double with 18 points and tying her career high of 10 assists.

“She’s willing to do the work. She’s asking questions.  She has the ability and confidence to make great plays in the game.  All around great performance by Erica Wheeler.”

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