Sparks win their fourth straight game after holding off Liberty in final quarter; two-time MVP Delle Donne returns after two year absence but cannot prevent Mystics falling to Storm
Monday 23 August 2021 10:10, UK
Brittney Sykes sank two late free throws and made two big defensive plays in the waning moments of the fourth quarter on Sunday evening that sealed the Los Angeles Sparks' 86-83 win over the host New York Liberty.
Meanwhile, in the other game, former two-time MVP Elena Della Donne's long-awaited return to the court was not enough to inspire the Washington Mystics as they fell to the Seattle Storm - a fourth straight defeat since the mid-season break.
Sykes stole an ill-advised behind-the-back pass by Betnijah Laney and converted two foul shots with 16.2 seconds left for an 85-81 Sparks lead. Michaela Onyenwere then drained two free throws of her own with seven seconds remaining to pull New York within two points.
The Liberty (11-14) had a chance to force overtime after Kristi Toliver made just one of two foul shots with five seconds on the clock, but Sykes blocked Sabrina Ionescu's running desperation three-pointer just before time expired.
Erica Wheeler scored 17 points for Los Angeles (10-13), who won their fourth straight game. Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike each added 16 points as the Sparks canned 47.1 per cent of their field goals and committed only 10 turnovers.
Five players scored in double figures for New York, led by Sami Whitcomb and Natasha Howard with 17 points apiece. Rebecca Allen added 15 off the bench, while Ionescu hit 12 points and Laney chipped in 10.
The Liberty sank 16 of 35 attempts from three-point range, a new franchise record, but their 23 turnovers helped in their undoing.
In the opener of a six-game road trip that will likely decide their playoff fate, Los Angeles came out strong in the first quarter. They led 11-5 less than three minutes into the game and extended that margin to 25-18 after 10 minutes.
The Sparks upped the advantage to nine points in the second quarter before New York finally gained traction on both ends of the court. A three-pointer by Allen with 4:25 left in the half gave the Liberty their first edge at 34-32 and another one by the same player with six seconds remaining made it 45-38 at halftime.
New York pushed the lead to 72-61 when Allen drained yet another triple at the 1:13 mark in the third quarter, but Chiney Ogwumike's fadeaway jumper in the lane with 3.9 seconds left pulled Los Angeles within 72-66 going into the fourth period.
Two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne scored 16 points in 22 minutes while making her first appearance in nearly two years but could not prevent the Washington Mystics from falling 85-78 to the visiting Seattle Storm on Sunday.
Delle Donne was 5 of 11 from the field while playing for the first time since 2019, when she won her second MVP and led the Mystics to their first league championship. She has been out of action for 22 months following two back surgeries, while also opting out of the 2020 season.
The Storm (18-7) won the most recent WNBA title and looked the part of a champion behind 20 points and 12 rebounds from Breanna Stewart, while Ezi Magbegor and Mercedes Russell had 14 each.
Seattle improved to 3-2 (2-2 in WNBA play) on a road trip to begin the post-Olympic schedule, including a victory over the Connecticut Sun in the inaugural Commissioner's Cup. The Mystics fell to 0-4 since the break.
Former MVP Tina Charles had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Mystics (8-14) in her first game in Washington with Delle Donne as a teammate. The two had previously been team-mates with Team USA.
Natasha Cloud added 11 points for Washington, while Ariel Atkins had 10. Myisha Hines-Allen had 17 rebounds for the Mystics.
Delle Donne made her first field-goal attempt less than two minutes into the game on a turnaround jumper from near the baseline while being tightly guarded by Katie Lou Samuelson. The basket helped Washington to an early 16-4 lead midway through the opening quarter.
The Storm then closed the first quarter on a 14-5 run and grabbed a 25-23 lead in the second on a three-pointer by Samuelson before pushing in front 43-33 by halftime.
The Mystics rallied to take a 74-73 lead with 3:32 remaining on a three-pointer by Hines-Allen, but a 7-0 Seattle run, which included a three-pointer from Sue Bird with 2:55 remaining, helped the Storm pull away late.
The Storm will remain in Washington on Monday and visit the White House to celebrate their 2020 championship.