Wheeler's First Career Double-Double Leads Sparks Past Mercury
In their first home game since June 5, the Sparks defeated the Phoenix Mercury by a final tally of 85-80. The Sparks were led by Erica Wheeler, who completed her first-career double-double with 18 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Phoenix was led by 30 points and 10 rebounds from Brittney Griner. The Sparks also became just the 12th team in WNBA history to overcome a free throw differential of 22 or more and win, as the Mercury shot 28 free throws to the Sparks six (Across the Timeline).
The Sparks were again short-handed with injuries to Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Jasmine Walker, and still missing Maria Vadeeva to overseas commitments. The Sparks were also without Te'a Cooper, who was serving a one-game suspension. The Mercury, meanwhile, were missing the legendary Diana Taurasi, who was out with a chest injury and Bria Hartley.
Amanda Zahui B. scored the contest's first points by draining a 3-pointer on the Sparks first possession. Both teams featured well-balanced offensive attacks in the first period, with six players for both teams getting on the board.
Kristi Toliver led all players with 8 first quarter points for the Sparks. Meanwhile, guard Erica Wheeler had a hand in 16 Sparks first quarter points, assisting on four 3-pointers and scoring 4 points herself. Their efforts helped the Sparks to a 27-24 advantage at the quarter's end. Future Hall of Famer Brittney Griner led the Mercury with 7 first quarter points.
The Sparks held the Mercury at arm's length through the first five minutes of the second quarter before using a 10-point scoring run to open up a commanding 47-34 lead with under 3 minutes to go before the half. Bria Holmes spearheaded the Sparks tear with a 3-pointer and 2 assists. Mercury guard Kia Nurse finally stopped the bleeding for Phoenix with a 3-pointer at the quarter's 2:21 mark.
The Sparks held a sizable 53-43 lead at the half, which they were able to build in large part due to stellar shooting by Zahui B. and Kristi Toliver, who went 3-for-6 and 2-for-4 from downtown in the first half, respectively. The Mercury were able to stay within striking distance behind Griner's 17 first-half points.
The Sparks impressively recorded just one turnover in the first half while forcing 6 by the Mercury, continuing a positive trend that it has ridden all season.
The Mercury came out of the gates hot in the third quarter, cutting the Sparks lead to just 2 points with a Griner tip-in with 5:16 to go in the period. Griner would give the Mercury a 61-60 lead less than 2 minutes later, their first since the first quarter. Phoenix subsequently built a 66-62 lead before Los Angeles scored the final 6 points of the quarter, 4 of them on Brittney Sykes jumpers.
The Mercury used a three-pronged attack to mount their comeback, with Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Sophie Cunningham each scoring 6 points. Bria Holmes helped the Sparks weather Phoenix's thirdquarter onslaught with 5 points and a block.
In the fourth quarter, the Sparks quickly extended their lead 78-69, with Erica Wheeler scoring 8 points for Los Angeles in a 3-minute span. However, a slew of Sparks fouls allowed Phoenix to crawl back into contention, as Los Angeles' lead was narrowed to 2 points with just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation.
The final 2-and-a-half minutes of the contest were a defensive grind, with just one field goal scored by either team. That field goal was an Erica Wheeler 15-foot dagger with 8.9 seconds to go, which capped off a dominant 10-point quarter for her.
"This is literally only the beginning for what Erica is capable of doing," said Head Coach/General Manager Derek Fisher after the game.
Los Angeles was outrebounded by Phoenix 38-35 but outshot Phoenix 45.0% to 41.3%. A whopping 5 Sparks scored in double figures - Wheeler (18), Toliver (17), Zahui B. (15), Sykes (14), and Holmes (10). Wheeler also added 10 assists - a season-high and tying her career-high - to earn a double-double, while Sykes came up one rebound shy of a double-double with a season-high 9. Her 14 points were a season-high. Additionally, Bria Holmes earned a season-high 4 assists.
The Mercury were powered by an incredible performance from Griner, who double-doubled with 30 points on 10-16 shooting and 10 rebounds. Diggins-Smith also notched a double-double for Phoenix with 15 points and 10 assists. Meanwhile, Cunningham added 16 points for the Mercury.
LA's win improved the Sparks to 5-5 on the season and dropped the Mercury to 5-7. The Sparks and Mercury now get set to go at it again here in Los Angeles on Friday, June 18 at 7:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and CBS Sports Network.
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