Rickea Jackson’s career-high not enough, Sparks fall to Mercury 84-78 – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — When looking at the game statistics, Dearica Hamby thought it was possible for someone to think the Sparks might have won the game.

“If you looked at the numbers, you might’ve thought we won,” Hamby said after the game.

The Sparks (5-16) had another low-turnover outing with nine giveaways to the Mercury’s 16. They also secured three more offensive rebounds, had nine more assists, double the steals and 16 more shot attempts than the Mercury.

But the final score read 84 to 78 in favor of the Phoenix Mercury (11-10) on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.

Rickea Jackson scored a career-high 22 points in the loss.

“Being a rookie has its ups and downs, but what’s getting me through is my teammates,” Jackson said. “They’re always encouraging me. They always tell me to give myself grace being a rookie.”

Hamby added a near double-double of 25 points and nine rebounds.

“When outside of Dearica you look at the stat sheet for most of the first half until a late little flourish, the team was combining to shoot around 25% as pros on open shots,” head coach Curt Miller said.

The team also missed its first nine threes and opportunities around the basket.

“It wasn’t up to the standards of what we have to be offensively,” Miller said. “The execution, the spacing, the timing in things, the physicality in things. Those all weren’t good enough.”

Miller pointed out that coming out of timeouts, the team wasn’t able to execute plays drawn up in the huddle.

“If we don’t play better, if we play like we did tonight, Minnesota will beat us by 20-plus,” Miller said.

Forward Azurá Stevens made her season debut with a minute left in the first quarter. Stevens is making her first appearance since suffering an arm injury while playing in China.

Stevens finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in her return while also taking the primary matchup against Mercury center Brittney Griner. She held Griner to nine points.

“Offensively, she’s versatile,” Hamby said after the game. “She can play inside and out. She’s long. She’s active, but defensively it was nice to take a little bit of pressure off me for her to guard (Griner).”

The Mercury were without guard Diana Taurasi, who was listed on the injury reporter for the Mercury with a left lower leg injury. In the teams’ past two matchups, Taurasi has 51 points on 16 of 25 shooting from the field and has made 12 of her 17 threes agains the the Sparks.

The Sparks had their own injury concerns. Forward Stephanie Talbot, who was named to the Australia Olympic roster prior to the game, started the game but exited after five minutes of play and didn’t return due to a lower body injury.

In the third quarter, Jackson scored ten points to keep the Sparks in the game, including a three-pointer off a pick-and-pop.

With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Hamby knocked down a stepback three-pointer to give the Sparks a 70-67 lead for their biggest lead of the game.

Mercury forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan drained a three-pointer to give the Mercury a 78-76 lead with 1:10 left in regulation. But after securing two offensive rebounds, Jackson made a putback layup to tie the game at 78 with 40 seconds left.

Cloud, who finished with a career-high 31 points, responded for a Mercury with a layup to get back the two-point lead.

Aari McDonald missed a pull-up three, and the Sparks were forced to foul. Cloud stretched the lead to 82-78 after converting both free throws.

Kaleah Copper sealed the game with two more free throws to bring her to 25 points and 10 rebounds.

“You got to have closers,” Miller said. “Tonight our team looked a little hesitant on who wanted the ball in those big moments.”

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