Long Beach, Calif. – If the Los Angeles Sparks go deeper into the playoffs, they might remember Sunday’s round one series-tying win as the game where they shook off the curse.
With a mind-boggling 18-point advantage on the Minnesota Lynx going into halftime, the Sparks saw their lead evaporate to five by the 4:45 mark of the third quarter, as the Lynx went on a 15-2 run.
But instead of letting a bad third quarter get the best of them, as they have many times this season, Los Angeles dug deep. Serbian standout Ana Dabovic, who had a career-high 19 points off the bench, made a pair of free throws. Jantel Lavender iced a 21-foot jumper 30 seconds later to put the Sparks’ lead back up to nine.
When Minnesota made a final push late in the fourth quarter, to once again trim their host’s lead to five, Los Angeles repeated the formula for the third period. More Dabovic free throws, a steal each from Candace Parker and Alana Beard, and another dagger shot by Lavender put the Sparks up by nine with undet two minutes to go, and they easily held on for the 81-71 win.
Parker finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Lavender and Beard each added 11.
“We’ve had experience throughout the season when these situations have happened to us before,” Dabovic said. “Today we used that experience to stay focused, to stay aggressive, and to just win the game.”
Los Angeles outscored Minnesota 29-12 in the second quarter, with some of the points coming from expert ball movement, good transitions and flashy assists. Parker said the team is finally rising to its potential.
“We’ve had glimpses this season of playing that way – playing together, moving the ball,” she said.
The Sparks’ win evens the Western Conference semifinals series and forces a deciding game three, in Minnesota Tuesday. The Lynx narrowly took Friday’s opener, 67-65, in a match up that could go either way between two teams that have had very different seasons.
Los Angeles had only three wins by the halfway mark of the year, but went 11-6 after Parker’s return from sabbatical. Minnesota began the season strong and were picked to be the league champions, but uncharacteristically went 6-6 in August.
Maya Moore, who lead the Lynx Sunday with 27 points, said she liked the way her team never gave up. But ultimately they committed too many errors to win.
“There were a lot of things throughout the course of the game that definitely hurt us,” Moore said. “We shouldn’t have let their run get so big in the second quarter…but they were aggressive, they got their hand in the passing lane. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve had similar sentiments.
“I thought our execution was horrendous when we needed to be great,” she said. “You’ve got to run your stuff, and you’ve got to run it well. And our decision-making was not very good. The surprise for me is that we didn’t get done what we needed to get done.”
“We need more balance to what we’re doing, and we need some more people to step up.”
The Sparks have been through much adversity this season, with Parker’s absence and player injuries. Coach Brian Agler said the tough times have made them strong.
“Nothing really distracts us anymore,” he said. “We just keep our focus and keep on going.”