Turnovers doom Mystics, who lose opener of road trip in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — Mike Thibault turned away from the court midway through the fourth quarter Tuesday night and let out an expletive after a Rui Machida pass landed in the seats at Crypto.com Arena. That was the theme for the Mystics’ evening — ugly turnovers leading to a frustrated coach.

The Sparks never trailed after the first quarter and had to hold on for an 84-82 victory after leading by 16 in the fourth quarter.

“We could have gotten assists on a couple of the turnovers we had,” Thibault said. “Twenty-three points in a close game. … My god, someone’s got to stop throwing it away.”

The Mystics had 13 turnovers in the first half alone and finished with 17 overall as the Sparks turned those into 23 points. The most annoying part of it for the team was that many of them were unforced without Los Angeles doing anything in particular to create them. Passes were simply overthrown or thrown into congested areas.

“I can speak about myself, personally,” Ariel Atkins said. “Just not really being intentional. That’s hard to say because that’s something I try to pride myself on.

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“I need to get my eyes up and not be so quick to get rid of the ball. Keep my dribble more and find the open man. … As a team, it’s just our focus to be honest with you.”

Said teammate Myisha Hines-Allen, “The live-ball turnovers, that’s what’s frustrating to me.”

The Mystics (11-8) did, however, use a 24-9 run late to get within one point with 13.3 seconds remaining. Natasha Cloud was fouled on a three-point attempt with 2.5 seconds remaining with the chance to tie things up as they trailed 84-81. She hit the first, missed the second and then had to miss the third on purpose. Ballgame.

Atkins scored eight points in the fourth quarter and finished with 22. Cloud had 10 in that final quarter and ended the night with 13 points and 13 assists. Hines-Allen added 17 points.

Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with 21 points.

“I thought we took a lot of hurried shots in the first half, just trying to get it over their length,” Thibault said about choppy offense. “I thought we were basically throwing it up there.”

Elena Delle Donne did not play because of a scheduled off day, but traveled to Seattle on Tuesday and is scheduled to play against the Storm on Thursday night.

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The Mystics went into halftime trailing 35-31 after an ugly first half in which the offensive operation left plenty to be desired. Thirteen turnovers had Thibault slamming his first on the scorers table as lazy passes were snatched by the Sparks and taken the other way. A 33.3 shooting percentage when they weren’t turning it over didn’t help things.

The Mystics defended everyone not named Nneka Ogwumike well in the first half, but the 2016 league MVP dropped 13 before halftime.

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