Sparks turn up the defense against the Sky


By Brady Klopfer

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When the final buzzer sounded on Sunday at the Staples Center, Candace Parker stood for her on-court interview and reflected on Thursday’s blowout loss to the Storm. “Thanks to everyone who came on Thursday to watch us get our butts whooped, for coming back today,” she smiled.

It was only three days, but the Sparks looked like a dramatically different team in beating the Sky 77-59. And they did it by reversing one of the biggest trends that led to Thursday’s 88-63 loss.

After getting repeatedly eaten up by the Storm’s pick and roll, the Sparks locked down against the Sky. Los Angeles’ traps were crisp, but devoid of the over-commitment that plagued them Thursday. Their interior defense was patient and disciplined, with the weakside rotations eliminating the cutters that hurt them just three days prior.

As a result, Chicago was in trouble running the most basic sets. Los Angeles’ coverage shut things down, holding the Sky backcourt of Allie Quiqley, Courtney Vandersloot, Diamond DeShields and Jamierra Faulkner to just 23 points on 7 of 37 shooting. But shutting down the perimeter didn’t leave the hoop unpatrolled; instead, it gave Parker and Nneka Ogwumike the freedom to protect the paint in position.

After the game, coach Brian Agler pointed to better individual defense from the primary coverage for allowing the team to display strong team defense.

“Pick and roll, to me, is like the point of attack,” Agler explained. “We have to really be engaged there. If we can keep those two [defenders], with the ability to guard those two offensive players, and not have to rely on rotation, then we’re going to be a pretty good team. But if you need three and four people to guard that certain action, that means people are open on the backside. So it comes down to that right there – how sharp are you at the point of attack.”

Sunday, that was emphatically the case. Chelsea Gray, Odyssey Sims, Alana Beard and Co., held down their perimeter counterparts admirably, and Los Angeles was able to defend two-on-two, rather than calling on excess help defenders.

On Thursday, the Sparks looked a half second behind at all times. Parker seemed to understand why, saying that on Sunday “We were proactive, instead of reactive, we were able to kind of load up the side. And we were scoring offensively, so we were able to set our defense, that’s a key.”

The concoction was a suffocating defensive effort that held the Sky to a dismal 28.4 percent from the field, and a reminder of how dangerous this team can be when locked in on both ends of the court.