Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (2024)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (1)

    Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson, second from right, shoots against, from left, Los Angeles Sparks guard Lexie Brown, forward Cameron Brink, and center Li Yueru during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (2)

    Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson, right, shoots against Los Angeles Sparks forwards Dearica Hamby, left, and Cameron Brink during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (3)

    Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum gestures during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (4)

    Los Angeles Sparks guard Lexie Brown celebrates a three-point basket during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (5)

    Comedian Leslie Jones reacts in the second half of a WNBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Dallas Wings at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Friday, June 7, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (6)

    Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson reacts after scoring during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (7)

    Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon gestures during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (8)

    Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, left, scores past Los Angeles Sparks center Li Yueru during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (9)

    Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson shoots during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (10)

    Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, right, passes against Los Angeles Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (11)

    Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson reacts after scoring during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (12)

    Comedian Leslie Jones watches during the first half of a WNBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (13)

    Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, center, shoots against Los Angeles Sparks forward Stephanie Talbot, left, and guard Aari McDonald (15) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

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LOS ANGELES — As the only openly gay male head coach in Division I men’s or women’s college basketball, the NBA, or WNBA for the past 22 years, Pride Night is important to Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller.

“It is really important to me to continue to provide visibility and representation to the coaches behind me,” Miller, 55, said. “I didn’t have a role model. I didn’t have someone that I could call and reach out to navigate as a gay male in sports and I’ve watched so many gay young men in basketball, men’s and women’s, including the NBA and the G League, drop out of chasing their dreams because there’s not a lot of visibility or representation beside myself.

“I’m going to try to keep carrying that banner until the decision-makers open the door more and advancement is possible for young gay men that are in the sport of basketball. We are losing too many because they don’t see advancement opportunities and they’ve only seen me for 22 years. I am hell-bent to keep plugging away so those barriers are broken down for others.”

The Las Vegas Aces (5-4) used a 15-4 run in the fourth quarter, capped off by a Kelsey Plum 3-pointer, to take an 80-78 lead with 4:42 remaining. However, back-to-back 3-pointers by Rae Burrell, the team’s 2022 1st-round pick, put the Sparks up 86-82 with 2:47 to go.

“Just a lesson for all of them to stay ready when your number is called,” Miller said postgame in respect to Burrell’s clutch shooting. “There’s no finer example for us now to use Rae being Rae and making big plays late for us.”

Rookie forward Rickea Jackson’s and-one made it 91-86 with 1:42 left. Aces two-time MVP A’ja Wilson’s 3-pointer made it 91-89. However, Jackson scored over Aces rookie Kate Martin on the low block to go up 93-89 with 1:19 left.

Aces head coach Becky Hammon picked up her second technical foul of the game with 23.9 seconds to go and was ejected. Burrell made the technical free throw to go up 94-89. Aces forward Alysha Clark made a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left to make it a 94-92 game.

Sparks guard Aari McDonald, who finished with 16 points, made both free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining to seal the win, the team’s second consecutive victory.

Meanwhile, Miller knew his Sparks (4-7) team was in for a tall task against the defending champion Aces as they trailed by as many as 15 points in the first quarter and later led by 10 points in the third quarter before rallying in the fourth quarter for a 96-92 win at Crypto.com Arena Sunday night.

“Just a very satisfying and exciting win for that locker room,” Miller said postgame. “They way that they are coming together and sticking together, responded again out of halftime.”

Dearica Hamby finished with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds for her ninth double-double in 11 games. Jackson tied her career high with 16 points and five rebounds.

“Everybody stepped up,” Hamby said. “I was kind of taken out in the fourth quarter but just really appreciate the girls finding a way to put the ball in the basketball. We just stayed composed.”

Before the game, Miller was concerned about playing with the level of physicality needed to be competitive against Wilson, who finished with 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and six blocked shots. Plum had 24 points and five assists. Veteran guard Tiffany Hayes added 17 points off the bench. Martin, a 2024 second-round pick out of Iowa, had 13 points, including 3 of 3 beyond the arc.

Wilson scored the game’s first five points. Plum’s 3-pointer put the Aces up 8-0 with 8:42 left in the first quarter, which forced Coach Miller to call timeout. It was the third straight game the Sparks trailed big early, after going down 11-0 to Minnesota on June 5 and 7-0 to Dallas on June 7.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Martin and Plum extended the Aces run to 14-0 to begin the game. Hamby’s layup broke her team’s scoring drought, trailing 14-2 with 6:48 left in the first.

“The game is a long game,” Miller said. “There’s going to be games of runs. We’ve got to figure out why we’ve been slow out of the locker room, out of the gate for us but we preach and preach that this league is a league of runs and we needed a spark from that second unit to get us going with that slow start… it doesn’t mean it’s easy in the moment and what I might have said is not printable but I think we got the point across.”

McDonald sparked her team off the bench with seven points in the first, including an up-and-under layup, which cut the Aces’ lead to 24-18 with 1:18 remaining in the first. The Sparks trailed 26-21 heading into the second quarter.

“I think coach made a point,” Hamby continued. “He took four of the starting five out, you have to be better. We had to be better and we responded to that. The second group responded to that and then in the third quarter that starting group responded to that, so we can’t continue to start games like that and dig ourselves in holes. We’ve obviously seen we can play in the third and fourth quarters and even second quarters. We’ve got to stay competitive in the first five minutes.”

A 3-pointer by guard Lexie Brown pulled the Sparks within one, 28-27, with 7:33 left in the second. Sparks rookie forward Cameron Brink (No. 2 pick) made one of two free throws to tie the game at 28. Jackson (No. 4 pick), who scored nine points in the second, drained her first jump shot, which gave the Sparks their first lead, 30-28, with 6:21 remaining in the second. Wilson responded with a driving layup and tied the game 30. Aces veteran guard Tiffany Hayes made two free throws to go up 32-30. Jackson tied the game at 32. Wilson knocked down a corner 3-pointer to go up 35-32.

After a back-and-forth final three minutes, the Sparks trailed 44-43. Wilson (16 points) and Plum (10 points) combined for 26 points before halftime and finished with 55 points.

“I believe you’re going to see (Wilson and Plum) try to go get 50 or more between those two tonight and can we keep those two under 50 combined,” Miller shared pregame. “You watched them win a championship when they were down in numbers and injured and you watched Kayla George and other people last year step up so like any team around the league, you know that players are going to be ready and Vegas will be no exception tonight.”

Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly non-binary player, made three free throws, which put the Sparks up 46-44 with 9:48 left in the third quarter.

Sparks guard Kia Nurse, who missed 10 straight 3-pointers over a 2+ game span, drained an emotional 3-pointer, which extended the Sparks lead to 59-50 with 5:39 to go in the third. Brink’s 3-pointer put the Sparks up 67-57 with 3:21 remaining in the third. Brink finished with eight points, six rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots.

“I think we’ll be okay,” McDonald said. “This is what coach is talking about, the lessons in the game. We’ve got to learn that we just can’t start off slow but I think we’ll be alright.”

Wilson and Coach Hammon were called for consecutive technical fouls with 10 seconds left in the third. Brown made both free throws and McDonald made a buzzer-beating shot to go up 74-65 heading into the fourth.

“Very physical. They were probably calls that could have gone both ways though but I want some of the calls that A’ja Wilson gets,” Hamby quipped postgame.

The Sparks suffered an 89-82 loss at Las Vegas on May 18. Sunday’s rematch concluded the team’s three-game homestand against Minnesota, Dallas and Las Vegas in five days.

“It’s not easy to play all these consecutive games but we have to find the energy that it takes to beat a team like Vegas,” Miller explained before the game.

The defending champions played without All-Star and U.S. Olympic women’s national team guards Chelsea Gray (lower left leg) and Jackie Young (illness) who sat out Sunday’s game. Martin, a former teammate of Caitlin Clark at Iowa, started in Young’s place. The 6-foot guard finished with a career-high 13 points, including 3 of 3 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“This league has incredible players from top to bottom on rosters and it’s these situations that are the unintended consequences that open the doors for pros to really take advantage of an opportunity,” Miller continued.

The Sparks will return to action at the Seattle Storm on June 11, the first contest in a seven-game road trip spanning three time zones in Minnesota, Atlanta, Connecticut, and New York (back-to-back), concluding in Phoenix on June 28.

Sparks rally past Aces in 4th quarter, Curt Miller speaks out on Pride Night (2024)
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