Sparks holds off Mystics for first win of the season

On one of the most critical possessions of the Sparks’ young season, Curt Miller was still sitting on the bench, his hands resting on his legs. When Cameron Brink blocked Sharika Austin’s final shot out of bounds, the normally animated Sparks head coach rushed out of his chair and waved his arms once in the air.

No more.

The Sparks survived a fourth-quarter comeback attempt to secure their first win of the season, holding off the Washington Mystics 70-68 Tuesday at Walter Pyramid. The Sparks (1-2) avoided their first 0-3 start since 2015 thanks to a balanced but chaotic attack that had three double-digit scorers, 28 turnovers and 26 field goals.

“We needed that one,” goalie Lexie Brown said, “bad.”

Brown led the Sparks with 20 points and six assists, but had seven turnovers.

After the Sparks let a nine-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate to one, Brown nearly sealed the game with two free throws that put the team up by three points with 14.7 seconds remaining . But the Mystics (0-4) scored quickly thanks to a layup by Ariel Atkins. Sparks guard Kia Nurse made just one of two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining, leaving the door ajar for the Mystics.

Brink closed it abruptly.

The No. 2 overall pick locked down Austin on Washington’s final possession, blocking a shot out of bounds. When the referees moved back 0.3 seconds after review, Brink stayed strong, not allowing Washington’s third-year forward to take another shot after the final inside pass.

The crowd, waving green towels for the team’s mental health awareness game, shook the pyramid. After two games in Long Beach, the Sparks will return to their downtown home at Arena on Friday to host the Indiana Fever in rookie Caitlin Clark’s Los Angeles debut.

Brink finished with four points, eight rebounds and four blocks with just three fouls in a career-high 30 minutes. She had 11 blocks in her first three games.

His compatriot Rickea Jackson also played a season-high 31 minutes with nine points and three rebounds. The 6-foot-2 forward’s defensive versatility helped the Sparks win a key matchup against Karlie Samuelson. The former Sparks fan favorite, who was the Mystics’ second-leading scorer, was held to a season-low seven points.

These two lottery picks signal a new era for the Sparks, who are trying to end a three-year playoff drought. Six of the team’s 12 players are in their first season under Miller, who continues to discover parts of his team every day.

“We’re young, we’re going to make mistakes,” Miller said. “We’re not going to look aesthetically good in May, but we’re going to get better and better. But I learned we had a tough group.

Dearica Hamby scored 14 of her 17 points in the third quarter to help the Sparks recover from a 36-32 halftime deficit. Despite missing five of her six shots, the forward pulled down 12 rebounds in the first half, en route to 18 rebounds, just one shy of her career high.

The two-time WNBA Sixth Player of the Year averaged 24.5 points in the first two games of the season. Facing her third All-Star selection in four years, Hamby lived up to her preseason goal of being the team’s best player.

She again proved her status in the third quarter.

The 10-year WNBA veteran scored eight points in a 14-5 run against the Sparks that began midway through the third quarter and erased a nine-point Washington lead. Hamby started the streak with back-to-back layups. When she missed a free throw, she grabbed the offensive rebound to score on a layup. Then, she dished an assist to Nurse on the game-tying three-pointer with 2:22 left in the third quarter.

Nurse made three key three-pointers in the second half to finish with 12 points.

This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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