LOS ANGELES (AP) Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper was in Candace Parker’s ear for much of Friday night. But Parker got the last word on her former coach.
Parker made two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining and the Los Angeles Sparks held on for an 80-77 overtime win against Cooper and Atlanta.
Parker scored 26 points and Jantel Lavender added 15 as the Sparks (14-16) moved closer to a playoff berth. Nneka Ogwumike had 14 points and 12 rebounds as the Sparks spoiled the homecoming of Cooper, who made his first appearance at Staples Center as Atlanta coach.
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Cooper, who is recovering from surgery for tongue cancer, served two stints as Sparks coach. He guided them to WNBA titles in 2001-02 and later coached Parker.
”I love that man,” Parker said. ”He’s one of the best coaches I’ve had. We still have a very close relationship and I really care about him and I’m happy to see him healthy. It’s fun. He always has something smart to say when I’m coming in from a timeout or standing in the corner. It’s always fun to be on the court with him.”
Cooper could only watch as the Eastern Conference-leading Dream (17-13) lost their fourth straight. Erika de Souza scored 21 points while Shoni Schimmel and Angel McCoughtry each scored 12 points.
Atlanta had a chance to tie it but Schimmel’s 3-point attempt was after the buzzer and fell short.
Cooper coached against Sparks general manager Penny Toler, who was GM during Cooper’s L.A. tenure. Former Los Angeles Lakers teammate A.C. Green attended the game, although Sparks owner Magic Johnson did not as he was attending the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
”Great memories here,” Cooper said. ”It was kind of fun playing against coach Penny Toler. But a lot of things we had built up over the years here – winning a championship on this court – (it’s) kind of like tearing it down a little bit. But still, it’s a fun, competitive sport. I’m with a very good basketball team in Atlanta and looking to build championship hopes and dreams there.”
Atlanta pulled to 78-77 with 4.7 seconds left on Schimmel’s 3-pointer before Parker made both free throws. Kristi Toliver’s 3-pointer from the right side gave the Sparks the lead for good at 76-74 and Atlanta was forced to foul.
The Sparks outscored the Dream, 46-40, in the paint after they allowed 60 points in the paint to the Tulsa Shock on Tuesday.
”It was a big focal point,” Parker said. ”We got our butts kicked on the boards the other night against Tulsa, and that was the reason why I think we lost the game.”
McCoughtry went 5-for-20 from the field and is 5-for-25 in her past two games. Her long 3-point attempt hit the back of the rim as time expired in regulation.
”She just has to fight through it,” Cooper said. ”Great players have those games where the ball won’t go in . I’ve still got a lot of faith in her. I’m going to put the ball in her hands at the end.”
Atlanta took its first lead at 65-64 after it could not get within two points in the first 14 minutes of the second half. Schimmel made three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to help the Dream rally. De Souza also had 11 rebounds and Sancho Lyttle had 12.
Toler said she hadn’t thought about coaching against Cooper but realized she has bragging rights.
”I was just happy that Michael was OK from the tongue cancer,” Toler said. ”It’s always great seeing him. But now that I’m thinking about it, I will be texting him tonight, `1-0.”’