Rickea Jackson's 22 points can't save Sparks from final-minute fade against Mercury

Natasha Cloud scored a career-high 31 points as the Phoenix Mercury overcame the absence of Diana Taurasi to defeat the Sparks 84-78 after a tense fourth-quarter duel at Crypto.com Arena.

Despite a career-high 22 points from Sparks rookie Rickea Jackson, Phoenix broke a 78-78 tie when Cloud scored with 35 seconds left in the game.

Dearica Hamby led the Sparks with 25 points and nine rebounds and Jackson had six rebounds and three assists. Cloud had nine rebounds and five assists and Kahleah Copper had 25 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 11 for 13 from the free-throw line.

The Sparks continued to struggle from three-point range, shooting five for 24 while scoring 29 of 75 from the field. Phoenix shot 27 for 59 from the field and 23 for 28 from the free-throw line.

Though the Sparks kept pace for most of the first quarter, they struggled to contain Cloud, who hit a trio of three-pointers and scored 13 points to help Phoenix take a 25-15 lead after the first quarter.

Azurá Stevens, making her Sparks season debut after undergoing surgery on his left arm in March, scored her first points on a steal early in the second quarter. She finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists. Guard Crystal Dangerfield also made her Sparks debut after signing a seven-day hardship contract Thursday.

After being named to the Australian national team on Thursday, Stephanie Talbot, who has been playing significant minutes with an injured right foot, left the game in the first quarter and did not return.

The Sparks clawed back late in the second quarter, going on a 7-0 run to trail 42-39 at halftime. Jackson scored seven points in the second quarter and Hamby had 12 points and seven rebounds at the break.

While Hamby helped the Sparks make it a one-point game early in the third quarter, foul trouble hampered the Sparks’ efforts. However, the Sparks tied the game 56-56 on a pair of Rae Burrell free throws with 2:13 left in the third. Jackson finished with 10 points in the quarter and made it a two-point game after sinking a shot with 1.1 seconds left.

Midway into the fourth quarter, Hamby scored a three-pointer to give the Sparks a 70-67 lead — their first lead since the first quarter. Both teams traded points down the stretch before the Mercury pulled ahead over the final 35 seconds.

The Sparks complete their homestand Tuesday against the Minnesota Lynx at Crypto.com Arena.

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