NEWARK, N.J. -- Cappie Pondexter had 21 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, Plenette Pierson scored 17 points, and the New York Liberty rallied to beat the Sparks 73-71 Sunday.
Essence Carson scored 14 points, including 11 during a 21-3 run in the third quarter that gave the Liberty (12-17) the lead after they trailed by 14 points. New York also trailed by 15 points in the first half.
"We fought hard," said Pondexter, who also had eight assists. "At one point we were down almost 16 points. I told the guys at halftime that if we fight back and be victorious, it's going to feel even better than (just) winning."
Coupled with Chicago's 82-77 loss at Connecticut, New York moved a half-game ahead of Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Liberty have five games remaining -- at home against Washington on Wednesday, followed by road games against the Mystics, San Antonio and Tulsa, and a home date against the Shock in the season finale on Sept. 22.
"We've got to play like we have to win every game," Liberty coach John Whisenant said. "If we get into the playoffs with a three-game series and we play as hard as we did tonight, there won't be anybody more athletically gifted like we played tonight."
Kristi Toliver scored 17 points, Candace Parker had 14 points and 15 rebounds, and rookie Nneka Ogwumike added 13 points for the Sparks (20-10). Los Angeles, which has lost four of its last five, remained two games ahead of San Antonio for second place in the West. The Silver Stars lost 81-62 to Minnesota earler Sunday.
"We have plenty of stuff to move forward with in terms of just trying to be the best playoff team we can be," Sparks coach Carol Ross said. "We still have more business to take care of before we get to the fun stuff."
Carson's 3-pointer tied the score at 70-all with 48 seconds remaining, and Pondexter made two free throws about 26 seconds later to put the Liberty ahead.
Ebony Hoffman made 1 of 2 free throws for Los Angeles with 15 seconds remaining. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Sparks double-teamed Pondexter and tied her up when she received the pass near half-court, forcing a jump ball between her and the Sparks' DeLisha Milton-Jones.
The Sparks grabbed the tipped ball and called timeout. Toliver then missed a 3 with about 5 seconds remaining, Pondexter corralled the loose ball, was fouled and made 1 of 2 from the line. She missed the second free throw, Parker got the ball and when she dribbled it was knocked away by Pondexter as time expired. After a lengthy video review, the officials ruled there was no time remaining when the ball went out of bounds.
"We didn't play very well in the second half," Toliver said. "It is something we are trying to battle through. We are continuing to learn lessons on the road. Hopefully we can learn, grow, and get better for the playoffs."
After trailing by 15 in the second quarter, New York cut the deficit to 48-36 at halftime. The Liberty then outscored the Sparks 23-7 in the third to take the lead.
"It shows our hard work and dedication and our fight," Pondexter said. "We displayed that especially in the third quarter. We had so much energy. We held them to seven points ... We did a great job containing Candace (Parker) and I credit that to our defensive players."
Ogwumike made 1 of 2 free throws and had a three-point play to give the Sparks a 52-38 lead with about 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Liberty then went on their big run to take a four-point lead into the fourth, with Carson's jumper with 1:38 left in the period tying the score 55-all and her go-ahead basket 53 seconds later giving New York its first lead of the game.
"Our team played with great effort and intensity, even though in the first couple of quarters we broke down defensively and gave up some easy baskets," Whisenant said. "I told them at halftime to just keep plugging and doing what you're doing and let's not make these mistakes. ... The defense got us back in the game. We all played hard and played together."
Toliver's free throw with 9:38 left in the fourth -- Los Angeles' first points since her 3 with 6:28 to go in the third -- pulled the Sparks to 59-56.
Braxton made a layup and Pondexter hit a jumper to put New York up seven -- it's largest advantage -- -- with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Sparks scored the next 11 points, with April Sykes' 3 putting them back ahead and Parker's turnaround jumper extending the lead to 67-63 with 5:11 remaining.
Vaughn's jumper 17 seconds later pulled the Liberty within two, and neither team scored for nearly 3 minutes until Vaughn's layup tied the score with 2:01 left.
Toliver hit a 3 to put the Sparks ahead 17 seconds later. After Pierson turned the ball over on the Liberty's ensuing possession, Parker was called for travelling while driving to the basket on the other end.