Sparks snap Aces’ 21-game home win streak in historic upset

M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comAug 19, 2023, 08:34 PM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

A long week for the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces ended with their first regular-season home defeat since last year, and their first loss to the Los Angeles Sparks since Aug. 1, 2019.

The Sparks, battling for a playoff spot, defied the odds Saturday with their 78-72 victory against the first-place Aces at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. It ended the Aces’ 21-game home winning streak, the Spark’ 13-game losing streak to the Aces, and was the largest upset victory in the WNBA since 2020.

It was also the first time in league history a team with a losing record — the Sparks are now 13-18 — won on the road against an opponent with a .900 or better winning percentage (minimum 10 games played), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Aces are now 28-4, their winning percentage dropping to .875 with the loss.

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“When we needed to make a play, there was composure, there was determination,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “There was a physicality that we matched. Our defense has really, really come around since May and June. Our consistent lineup has helped that. Our roles are more defined. Just can’t be more proud. That is a huge win in a foundational-build year for us.”

The Sparks, in their first season under Miller, came into the game as 17-point underdogs. They are the biggest underdog to win a game since the New York Liberty did so as 18-point underdogs to the Chicago Sky in 2020. That season, all games were played at Bradenton, Florida, as the league was in a COVID-19 bubble. The Sparks, by contrast, did it on the Aces’ home floor.

Saturday was the Sparks’ first game since Aug. 12, while it’s been a much busier stretch for the Aces with five games in the last nine days. Las Vegas fell 82-63 Tuesday to visiting New York in the Commissioner’s Cup final, but that result doesn’t count in the standings. Thus, Saturday was the Aces’ first regular-season home loss since July 19, 2022, when they fell to the Atlanta Dream.

The Aces also played the Liberty in a regularly-scheduled game on Thursday, winning that 88-75.

“This was the classic let-up game,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “You exert so much [this past week] and you’ve already beat this team [three times this season], and we’re just gonna show up. And that doesn’t work. You’ve got to go out and earn it every time and we didn’t earn it today, flat-out.

“And [the Sparks] are playing well. I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘Oh, it’s just us being crappy.’ They helped us be crappy.”

The Sparks have won four games in a row and six of their last nine after enduring an eight-game losing streak between June 29-July 22. They are currently in eighth place, the last playoff spot.

After missing the playoffs the past two years, Los Angeles had an organizational revamp with a new head coach (Miller) and general manager (Karen Bryant). Franchise stalwart Nneka Ogwumike, in her 12th WNBA season, remains the Sparks’ pillar. She had 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals Saturday, while Layshia Clarendon had 22 points and Jordin Canada, 20.

Meanwhile, the Aces have five of their remaining eight regular-season games on the road, including the next four in a row. That includes a fourth meeting this month against second-place New York in Brooklyn on Aug. 28. They return to Las Vegas on Aug. 31 vs. the Washington Mystics.

Of what it meant to have such a long home winning streak, Aces star A’ja Wilson said, “Man, that’s big-time. It really is. Our fans come out every night to support us. We lean on them a lot. So it’s been a lot of fun.

“Just watching from the time I was drafted here [in 2018] to now, I never would have imagined we would have a crowd like [this]. We get back [Aug. 31], and we’ll look to start the streak over.”

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