The Los Angeles Sparks won their season opener and game one of the Curt Miller era, defeating the Phoenix Mercury 94-71.
Nneka Ogwumike was the brightest star in a city filled with them, finishing the night with a team-high 17 points and four rebounds, and Zia Cooke had as good of a debut as anyone could have expected with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
It may have been an L.A. home game, but fans made it clear how much they missed Brittney Griner. She was greeted with thunderous applause when she was announced and the crowd cheered during her first baskets.
Griner played like she never left, starting the first quarter with four points, four rebounds and two blocks. She ended her night with 18 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
L.A. couldn’t get anything going offensively during the first five minutes, going 2-of-12 from the field, but suddenly shots started to fall for 3-point shooters Lexie Brown and Karlie Samuelson. An 11-point deficit shriveled down to just three by the end of the first quarter.
Cooke took advantage of her opportunities in the second quarter. She drove to the rim and converted on a tough layup while being fouled. Upon scoring the basket, she pumped her fist in the air in celebration of registering her first professional points. She scored all 14 of her points in the quarter.
“Without her, we may not be sitting here with this result,” Miller said in the postgame press conference.
The rest of the first half was all Los Angeles as the Sparks outscored Phoenix 35-29 to sway momentum in their favor. They led 54-41 at the half.
Miller rewarded Cooke’s performance by keeping her on the court to start the third. Unfortunately, during the quarter she suffered some sort of leg injury. She was grimacing and grabbing her leg and had to be subbed out. She headed to the locker room with the trainer; fortunately, she was able to return in the fourth.
Miller went with a three-guard/two-big lineup often and his two bigs Chiney Ogwumike and N. Ogwumike stepped up. Chiney showed off her range by hitting a three, while Nneka started slow in the first half but began looking for her shot as the game progressed.
With the Sparks holding an 18-point lead and ten minutes left in the game, the result was a foregone conclusion. Miller didn’t opt to take his starters out; he continued to play as if the game was hanging in the balance. In fact, he brought Cooke back into the game even with a 24-point lead. If anyone thought Los Angeles would bring out a more laid-back Curt, that hypothesis is not supported by tonight’s game. The Sparks maintained their lead and secured the 23-point win.
The Sparks won thanks to one of their oldest players (Nneka) and one of their youngest players (Cooke) having big games. Not many complaints from tonight’s Sparks performance; they lost the rebounding battle by just two, only committed seven turnovers and cruised to victory. It’s far too early to tell if this is a sign of things to come, but winning game one has to be encouraging. Now the Sparks will get some rest as they focus on a pair of games against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces starting on Thursday.
“We’re going to see what we did well and what we can improve on,” Nneka said postgame. “We’re going to hit the tapes and see what we can do to be ready for Thursday.”