Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Candace Parker Reigning league MVP has six points as Sparks lose first home game of season
Candace Parkerâ€™s return may have been the pregame focus of the Sparksâ€™ matchup with the Phoenix Mercury Sunday, but the Mercury reminded everyone why they have had the focus all season.
Behind the 1-2 punch of Cappie Pondexter (21 points) and Diana Taurasi (20 points), Phoenix overpowered the Sparks 104-89 for their league-high eighth win of the season while handing them their first home loss of the season.
Trailing 51-45 at the half, the Mercury (8-4) exploded for 36 points in the third quarter and never looked back. Their run-and-gun style proved too much for the Sparks (3-6) as they allowed a season-high in points, while setting a new season-high themselves.
Playing in her first game since giving birth to daughter Layla on May 13, Parker with 5:35 left in the first quarter and hit her first field goal with 4:40 left in the second. She finished with six points, four rebounds and three fouls in 20 minutes.
â€œI felt a little rusty â€“ well, very rusty,â€ Parker said, correcting herself. â€œBut I knew that was what was going to happen initially.
The reigning league MVP described herself as okay, saying that her legs felt tired as her minutes added up. Her teammates tried to get her to stay low to alleviate the pressure but she admitted it was difficult, especially as the game wore on.
â€œIt felt longer than 20 minutes,â€ Parker said, â€œBut if I felt like I need rest, I would have told [the coaches].â€
Head coach Michael Cooper admitted that he may have left her in too long and Parker added that she wasnâ€™t told of a set time frame she would play. Nevertheless, he looked ahead to judging how she felt after this week of practices.
â€œItâ€™s all about her conditioning and if thatâ€™s the case, weâ€™re going to have to bring her on slow. We have two more days of practice until we play again on the road.â€
As for his teamâ€™s loss, Cooper said that a lack of rebounding and a lack of effort led to teamâ€™s collapse in the second after an energetic first half.
Â â€œWe saw now what it takes to play a 40minute game, not just a 20 minute game,â€ Cooper said.
In addition to Taurasi and Pondexterâ€™s hot nights â€“ both shot 50 percent from the field â€“ the Mercury also got help from center DeWanna Bonner (16 points and 10 rebounds). Bonnerâ€™s effort helped the team out-rebound the Sparks 30-22 as they shot 47.1% from the field.
â€œThey are a long team that gets rebounds and when they get rebounds, they like to run, and they outran us,â€ Cooper said.
Tina Thompson, who along with Betty Lennox led the Sparks with 17 points, added, â€œWe didnâ€™t execute well or get them out of their comfort zone.â€
With their home win streak ended, the team now heads on a seven-game road trip starting Thursday in New York. Having gone winless on the road this year (0-5), they know this trip could either turn their season around or make it that much tougher to climb out from near the bottom of the Western Conference.