New-look Sparks fall to Atlanta in season opener – Orange County Register

LONG BEACH — The new-look Sparks could not overcome an 11-0 run by the Atlanta Dream to start the fourth quarter and dropped their season opener, 92-81, in front of celebrities like Kim Kardashian (WNBA SKIMS partnership) and team owner Magic Johnson on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.

The score was tied at 66 through three quarters, but Atlanta seized control with its pivotal 11-0 run for a 77-66 lead with 6:29 left.

“I take it as my responsibility that a lot of the starters got tired at the end of the third quarter all at one time and I have to substitute more players at one time at the start of the fourth quarter that I would have liked, in that 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, ultimately was a hard situation to dig out of but we never quit,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said postgame. “We really battled and showed our scrappiness that we’re going to be defined by this year and it’s a great learning less for our young post players in Cam and Rickea to go against one of the best ever in Tina Charles.”

The Sparks cut Atlanta’s lead to 87-81 on rookie forward Cameron Brink’s 3-pointer with 1:34 remaining, but they missed their last four shots and had a critical turnover while Atlanta went 5 for 6 from the foul line to ice the win.

Newly acquired guard Kia Nurse scored a team-high 23 points, going 5 for 11 from 3-point range in her Sparks debut after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Seattle Storm.

“I do think for me personally it’s been a long road and a long journey coming back from the ACL (injury) and last year mentality I just didn’t feel like myself,” Nurse said. “This is a nice place to start. I think I said to my partner before the game I was like I just want to make all my family and everyone that was around me proud and he was like you need to make yourself proud and the loss is not as exciting but it’s a proud moment to be able to play and feel more like myself out there.”

Sparks forward Dearica Hamby had a double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds), while guard Layshia Clarendon had her first career triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Both players said they are looking to make a major impact this season.

“I just came into camp very clear-minded and had very clear intentions on what I wanted this season to look like for me personally and what I wanted to help this team do,” Hamby said.

“I think it’s cool. Every game stats don’t always reflect how good you play or how hard you played so I think it’s cool to actually see that come out,” Clarendon said. “I didn’t realize I had that many rebounds, never know assists because I don’t count them. I knew I was playing well, sometimes you make the right pass and people don’t make the shot so they told me afterward I was a little surprised but I was like ‘oh yeah I was ballin’ so it’s pretty cool to get that, not a lot of people do it.”

Brink finished with 11 points, four assists, two rebounds, two blocked shots and five personal fouls in 20 minutes. Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson added seven points and three rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie playing in your first ever WNBA game like Cam and Rickea will be or you’re a seasoned veteran, everybody is going to have nerves tonight,” Miller said before the game.

However, after a 24-second shot clock violation on their first possession, the Sparks began the game on a 9-2 run, with five early points by Clarendon, which forced Atlanta coach Tanisha Wright to call timeout less than three minutes into the game.

The Sparks’ starting lineup was Clarendon, Lexie Brown, Nurse, Hamby and Brink (No. 2 pick in the 2024 Draft), who had three points and one assist early but only played 3:21 second in the first quarter before exiting the game with her second personal foul.

“I thought that starting unit was terrific… that group has had a chemistry, really quickly and we’re going to bring that bench along,” Miller continued. “The bench is better than they played tonight and they know it, we know it. We have confidence in them but really proud of that starting unit, they’ve all been asked to take on a more prominent role with this team and they’re embracing it and I can’t wait to keep working with that starting unit.”

Atlanta (1-0) was led by All-Star guard Rhyne Howard (25 points) and battled back behind Allisha Gray’s outside shooting (two 3-pointers in the first quarter) and tied the score at 26 heading into the second quarter.

Atlanta veteran center Tina Charles took over and scored 11 of her then 15 points in the first six minutes of the second quarter, as the Dream opened a 41-32 advantage. Charles finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Gray finished with 12 points.

The Sparks responded with a 14-5 run and tied the score at 46 on a pair of Nurse free throws with 36 seconds left before halftime. Jackson stole the ball at midcourt and made a buzzer-beating layup, which tied the score at 48-all at halftime.

The Sparks shot 17 for 32 from the field in the first half (53.1%), including 7 for 14 from behind the arc. Hamby had 13 points and six rebounds at halftime. The Sparks cooled off in the second half and finished the night at 39% from the field but they had 24 assists on their 28 field goals.

“A couple things bounce our way, a couple runs go our way a little bit differently early in that fourth probably, we win that game and with that energy and that effort and the chemistry we played with today, we’re going to win a lot games in this league,” Nurse said.

Atlanta point guard Haley Jones finished with 14 points and four assists in a start for Jordin Canada, who played the past two seasons with the Sparks but missed the game with a right hand injury.

The Sparks (0-1) next play at the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday at noon in a nationally televised game on ABC.

#Newlook #Sparks #fall #Atlanta #season #opener #Orange #County #Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *