Sparks can't match Atlanta Dream's fourth-quarter surge, drop season opener

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Nobody would budge through the first three quarters. The Sparks would go on a run, the Atlanta Dream would respond with one of their own, and vice versa. They were deadlocked at 66 going into the fourth quarter, neither giving the other any breathing room. Then, the fourth quarter happened.

Cheyenne Parker-Tyus and Crystal Dangerfield hit back-to-back layups to open the fourth. Then Rhyne Howard got some free throws and followed them with a three. All of a sudden, the Dream were up double digits before the Sparks scored in the final period.

There were moments of life, a huge three-pointer from rookie Cameron Brink to bring the Sparks within six with a minute to go, but that was as close as they would get. The Dream held on to earn a 92-81 win over the Sparks during the season opener played at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. The venue seats 5,000 people, and the Sparks announced the contest was a sellout.

Dearica Hamby paced the young Sparks with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while point guard Layshia Clarendon finished with a career first triple-double — 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Brink finished with 11 points, four assists and two blocks during her WNBA debut, but early foul trouble limited her impact. During the second possession of the game, Brink found Clarendon, who hit a three-pointer for the Sparks’ first points of 2024. Brink then cut inside to get the easy layup for her first professional points. The hot start propelled the Sparks to an early 9-2 lead.

Brink quickly ran into foul issues after that, however, and the Dream took advantage of her absence in the paint to tie the game up by the end of the first quarter.

Rhyne Howard (25 points) and Tina Charles (21 points) were key leaders for Atlanta.

For all the hype that comes with the Sparks’ two top-four draft picks, Sparks coach Curt Miller said the young and often overlooked team is still working to establish itself.

“We’ve got to continue to keep building for these 40 games,” he said before the game. “It’s not easy to put together the entire packages that you want in 11 days for a 40-game season, but we love where we’re at chemistry-wise.”

Whatever work the Sparks have left to do, it won’t get any easier from here as they travel to the desert on Saturday to take on the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

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