Liberty puts a damper on celebratory game

On June 21, 1997, Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo headlined the first game of WNBA history when the New York Liberty defeated the Los Angeles Sparks in front of 14,000 fans at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. Since then, the league has undergone several revolutions, and a new generation of athletes has assumed the mantle of carrying the game forward.

The Sparks celebrated the inaugural matchup of the upstart league when they faced the Liberty on Father's Day. But, like then, the Liberty thrillingly defeated the Sparks in front of a capacity crowd of 731 at the Los Angeles Convention Center 76-73.

New York built an 8-point lead in the opening half by pounding the Sparks on the glass. The Liberty outrebounded the home team in the first half 22-12, and Los Angeles' inability to control the defensive glass resulted in an additional 14 first-half points for the visitors.

The third quarter would see the Sparks' tide turn after Karlie Samuelson was inserted into the game when coach Fisher searched for players that were willing to scrap and play with passion. The defensive combination of Brittany Sykes and Samuelson provided the jolt that saw the Sparks close a 15-point deficit to tie the game at the end of the third quarter. Sykes got 4 of her career-high 7 steals as she led the defensive charge of forcing 9 turnovers in the quarter.

Head Coach Derek Fisher was gushing with praise of Sykes. "She has a mindset that a really good defensive player must have. She takes a lot of pride in that end of the floor. It's like she's creating positive energy on the defensive end for herself. She definitely helped us turn this game around today. She's done that a lot this this season. Hopefully, we can figure out how to win some games to support the effort she's putting out."

Sykes, the consummate teammate, was effusive of Samuelson. "Whoever he (Coach Fisher) calls, whenever he calls your number, you have to be ready and Karlie did that. That was personally a joy to see. I was happy because that was one of the sparks that got us that third quarter into that fourth. So for her to come in and do what she did, man, kudos to Karlie. She should be here. You should be talking to her, because that was a hell of a performance; and I respect her for that, because that helped us in this game big time."

Despite forcing 30 turnovers in the game, Los Angeles' offense stalled and struggled to execute throughout the contest. After a back and forth fourth quarter, down the stretch, the Sparks' offensive well went dry.

Sykes' beautiful fading, turn-around, bank shot jumper to cut the Liberty lead to one would be the final points scored by the Sparks.

After a Sabrina Ionescu missed 3-pointer, Erica Wheeler dribbled the ball up the court and found Kristi Toliver on the right wing for a three-point attempt. However, New York's Rebecca Allen denied Toliver's shot, as she simultaneously kicked out her foot. The Sparks guard was called for a foul, and Allen was awarded two free throws, which she knocked down.

Wheeler attempted a step-back three-pointer to tie the game; however, Allen thwarted the WNBA's leading clutch performer by blocking her shot. Nia Coffey recovered the loose ball and shot an uncontested three that rimmed out.

Coach Fisher was encouraged with the league's state and offered insight into how the WNBA could improve its global cachet. "Society is better when we invest in our women. We've been conditioned to see this as inferior to other sports products. We just have to do better. There's a lot more that we have to do, but I feel fortunate to be here today (24 years) later," said Fisher.

At press time the Sparks were in 10th place in the 12 team WNBA league. Their next home game is Wednesday against Las Vegas at the Los Angeles Convention Center at 7:30 p.m. and they play another home game against Las Vegas Friday at 7 p.m.

Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared or IG @elamb5quared.


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