When DeWanna Bonner set her feet just inside half-court and swished a 40-foot buzzer beater to end the third quarter Sunday, she pretty much knew the Phoenix Mercury had put a stake in their nine-game losing streak vs. the Los Angeles Sparks.
“At this point I’m OK, I think we’ve got this,” Bonner said. “It brings a certain energy. When people hit those shots on you, it kind of drains you and takes you down a little bit. It’s like that’s going to be a good energy boost for us going into the fourth quarter.”
Bonner hit another 3-pointer to open the fourth then assisted on a breakaway that turned into a Diana Taurasi 3, boosting the Mercury to a 73-54 lead less than a minute into the final period.
Los Angeles cut back within single digits but not until less than 1:30 remaining, as Phoenix sealed an 86-78 win, its first over the Sparks since Aug. 28, 2016, before 10,618 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“It’s just kind of being fed up losing to LA,” Bonner said. “I just really wanted to beat them. Right now, we need to find a good rhythm for the playoffs so that was on my mind.”
DeWanna Bonner, Diana Taurasi and Sandy Brondello discuss their team’s long-awaited win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday.
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
Bonner finished with a season-high 31 points and eight rebounds on DeMomma Bonner bobblehead night, during which Mercury fans received a bobblehead of Bonner holding her twins.
The Mercury (18-14) ended a nine-game losing streak vs. the Sparks (18-13) that included a three-game sweep in the 2017 WNBA playoff semifinals. They also improved to sixth in the WNBA standings and currently are in position to host a first-round playoff game Aug. 21 at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena (due to a concert conflict at Talking Stick).
Los Angeles won the first two meetings at Staples Center by eight and three points with Bonner missing a potential game-tying 3-pointer a week earlier.
“We know we can beat them, we’ve just got to figure out how,” Bonner said. “We figured it out tonight. We knocked down shots, we defended. We’ve got to carry it over to the playoffs. We might see them again.”
One of the big keys to the win was Diana Taurasi’s career-high 14 assists as part of a double-double (20 points). Her previous assist high was 12 in 2014.
By focusing first on distributing, Taurasi ignited Bonner and center Brittney Griner (20 points and 13 rebounds) and limited the effectiveness of Sparks defensive ace Alana Beard. In the Aug. 5 game, Taurasi played just 28 minutes due to foul trouble and had 11 points and two assists.
“I probably take a little bit too much of the scoring load in some games,” Taurai said. “We need more balance. Today, we had stretches where we obviously went to BG (Griner). Overall, it just flows a little bit better when we play like that. We had more balance also in transition defense, which against a team like that we really needed.”
The Mercury were better than usual at contesting jump shots, holding guard Chelsea Gray to seven points after her 24 against them last week. Candace Parker scored the Sparks’ first 12 points and 15 in the first quarter but only nine the rest of the way.
“It was one of our better games,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “Defensively, we had way better activity, way better teamwork and for the most part we rebounded. We wanted to protect the paint. We don’t want to give open shots. Maybe with a little bit of contest, they’re going to miss.”
The Mercury outshot the Sparks 52.7-42 percent and led 32-28 on the boards.
“There’s no question they just outplayed us,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “I don’t think we fought that hard defensively, and we were real stagnant on the offensive end.”
The Mercury now have at least one win over every team in the WNBA. Earlier in the season, they ended a 13-game losing streak vs. the Minnesota Lynx.
“You always want to know if you play at a high level you can beat the really good teams,” Taurasi said. “It was a big game for us. We’re trying to play well and feel good going into the playoffs.”
The Mercury get four days off before hosting second-place Atlanta (22-10) on Friday. That’s followed by the regular-season finale, also at home, against New York on Aug. 19.