LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kristi Toliver was coming off a rare game in which she did not attempt a field goal, unusual for one of the league’s top-15 scorers. Toliver and the Los Angeles Sparks had a week off to improve and it showed.
Toliver scored 29 points, including 6 for 6 from 3-point range, and Candace Parker had 28 points and 13 rebounds as the Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 96-90 on Thursday.
Toliver shot 8 for 13 from the field and 6 for 7 on free throws while matching career highs in scoring and 3-pointers made. It came after her first scoreless game of the season on June 28.
“It’s completely crazy that I didn’t even shoot the ball that last game,” Toliver said. “That’s not who I am. That’s not who I want to be. Today I just kind of shifted that and showed everybody that this is who I am and this is what I do. I’m back on track.”
Nneka Ogwumike added 12 points and Alana Beard had 10 for the Sparks (11-6), who led by 20 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter before weathering Minnesota’s furious rally to snap a three-game losing streak. Parker also shot 8 for 13.
Seimone Augustus scored 18 points to lead the defending champion Lynx (13-3), who have lost two back-to-back games for the first time since June 24-26, 2011. Minnesota has also lost three straight on the road for the first time since August 2010.
Candice Wiggins had a 3 and Maya Moore made two to pull the Lynx to 84-78 with 2 1/2 minutes to go. However, Toliver and Parker made 10 free throws over the last 1:59 to seal the Sparks’ win.
“We were starting to get more aggressive but it was just too late,” Moore said. “We dug ourselves too big of a hole. We just couldn’t find the rhythm and that attention we sort of needed on the defensive end.”
Moore finished with 14 points, Rebekkah Brunson scored 11 and Wiggins and Amber Harris added 10 each for Minnesota.
The matchup between the top teams in the Western Conference appeared headed for a blowout until Minnesota staged a comeback. After Sykes’ 3 put the Sparks ahead 82-63 with 6:54 remaining, Moore’s 3 capped a 15-2 run that cut Minnesota’s deficit to six nearly 4 1/2 minutes later.
Harris’ three-point play pulled the Lynx to 90-85 with 27.1 seconds remaining, but Toliver made two free throws 1 second later. After Harris’ layup with 8.4 remaining, Toliver made two more from the line. Harris had another three-point play with 2.3 to go to pull the Lynx within four, but Parker made two free throws with less than a second left to close the scoring.
The Lynx gave up 90 points for the second time this season — and second straight following a 93-84 loss at San Antonio on Sunday.
“I thought the whole game was not a good one for us,” Reeve said. “They didn’t have to get their third, fourth options in their offense. Everything was first or second option. They had two players that I thought lit us up. Toliver and Parker had everything they wanted and it was an easy game for them. They made our defense look silly.”
The Sparks finished the first half of the season on a high note after a three-game stretch in which they lost by an average 16.6 points and allowed an average of 92 points. Poor starts were a common thread in that losing streak but the Sparks corrected it after a week off.
“It was nice to come out and not be down 4 to 22 or 4 to 19,” Parker said. “It was nice the way that we started. We started with intensity. That really set the tone early . We were ready to help. We helped the helper. We had a defensive plan and we really sticked with it through whole game.”
The Sparks pulled away in the third quarter and led by 18 points twice, including a breakaway layup by Beard to stretch the lead to 75-57 going into the fourth quarter. Toliver made two free throws with 9:23 remaining to extend the advantage to 20.
Parker was a force in the first quarter. She scored 11 points and had three three-point play opportunities while Toliver also scored 11 points as Los Angeles ended the first quarter on a 13-2 run.
Ogwumike and Beard scored the final six points of the first half to give the Sparks a 49-43 at halftime. Parker and Toliver scored 30 of the Sparks’ first 34 points and Toliver made all five 3-point attempts in the first half.
“I’ve been pushing her hard,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said of Toliver. “I’ve been rough her. I think she just responds. Toliver’s one that, if you give her just enough fuel, she’ll try to prove you wrong. Fortunately, it was me. She shot the ball great, but I thought defensively she was tenacious. Shooting the ball’s never been an issue but there was slippage there with her complete game.”