Sparks can't hold off Mystics' late surge, extend losing streak to eight games

It isn’t over until it’s over.

For roughly 38 minutes, the Sparks and their jubilant home crowd thought they had it. After seven consecutive devastating losses on the road, along with a myriad of injuries, the Sparks were finally going to get a win. Until they didn’t.

Despite holding a 12-point lead after three quarters and a season-best night by Stephanie Talbot, the shorthanded Sparks couldn’t hold off the Washington Mystics in the final minutes Tuesday night at Arena. The Sparks lost 82-80, extending their losing streak to eight games.

“I thought we did a lot of good things in stretches, but that’s not going to feel good because of the fourth quarter and ultimately the loss,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “There’s a razor thin line between winning and losing in this league and with our youth and injuries it’s even thinner. You watched that thin line evaporate in the fourth quarter and it’s disappointing because we played well enough early to be in control of that game in the fourth.”

Along with a season-ending injury to Cameron Brink, Lexie Brown (Crohn’s disease) and Azurá Stevens (left arm injury) missed Tuesday’s game.

The night was also highlighted by the announcement Sparks forward Dearica Hamby was named to the 2024 WNBA all-star roster for the third time in her career. The 2024 WNBA all-star game will be held at Footprint Center in Phoenix on July 20.

During her second start of the season, Talbot put up a season-high 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Before the game, Miller wasn’t even sure Talbot would play due to an ankle sprain. She ended up playing for 30 minutes.

“It was a game-time decision on if she could even play,” Miller said. “Really proud of her grittiness throughout the game. She is our energy, our glue player right now, we put her in the starting lineup recently just to get the energy that we have. We were scheming a certain way against their offense and she was a big part of that defensive approach.”

Aari McDonald also scored 17 points, her second most of the season, and delivered six assists. The Sparks shot 28 of 60 from the field while the Mystics shot 23 of 67. Miyisha Hines-Allen led Washington with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Julie Vanloo contributed 15 points.

The Sparks got off to a hot start to the game, something they have struggled to do this season, and continued to lead until the final minutes of the game. Talbot opened the contest with a three pointer from deep, while rookie Rickea Jackson led the Sparks with seven points and two assists in the first period. Jackson ended with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

While the Sparks led by as much as eight in the first half, the Mystics quickly closed the gap in the final minutes of the second quarter to tie the game 36-36. However, a Sparks 5-0 run put them back on top 43-38 to end the half.

Talbot ended the half leading with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals on three-for-three shooting from three-point range.

The Sparks’ momentum continued with an 8-0 run to open the half, with five of those points coming from Jackson, to extend their lead to 13 points. The Sparks continued to dominate the paint and led by 12 entering the last period.

But the Mystics were not done yet, going on a 12-0 run to open the fourth quarter, closing the gap to 66-64. After Jade Melborne tied the game at 66 each, the Sparks began to play with urgency.

Despite five points by McDonald in 67 seconds and multiple free throw opportunities, the Sparks lost their lead for the first time with 2:30 left in the game and trailed 75-74. Talbot hit a three pointer at the buzzer, but the Sparks couldn’t catch the Mystics.

As the gap grew smaller and smaller, it was up to veterans like Hamby to keep her teammates confident.

“This league doesn’t stop for anybody,” Hamby said. “With four minutes left I told the team to be composed, don’t play like we are down but run the clock and be smart about that. We just couldn’t do it but we have to move on.”

The Sparks continue a three-game homestand against the Las Vegas Aces on Friday at Arena.

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