10:30 PM ET, September 12, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES -- Nneka Ogwumike stepped up for Los Angeles after Candace Parker was ejected in the third quarter and led the Sparks to a win in a potential Western Conference finals preview.
Ogwumike had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Kristi Toliver added 19 points, and the Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 85-84 on Thursday night.
Jantel Lavender scored 15 points for Los Angeles (23-10), and Parker had 14 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes. Ogwumike had 22 points and Toliver 16 in the second half to help the Sparks end Minnesota's seven-game winning streak.
"It's up to your team to respond in whatever way you can," Ogwumike said. "Whether it's a positive call or a negative call, you have to feed off that. I think that's the beauty of our team today: Whatever could have turned into negative energy became positive energy, and we fed off of that."
Seimone Augustus led the Lynx (25-8) with 23 points, and Maya Moore added 17 points before she fouled out with 2:18 remaining. Augustus scored 16 points in the second half. Lindsay Whalen finished with 13 points, and Rebekkah Brunson had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota pulled within two points three times in the final minutes, including 85-83, when Whalen rimmed in a shot with her foot on the 3-point line with 1.2 seconds remaining. Sparks coach Carol Ross was whistled for a technical foul, and Augustus made the ensuing free throw before L.A. ran the clock off.
Ogwumike made a block and drew a foul at the other end with Los Angeles up 80-77 before her key basket for an 83-79 lead.
"That's just Nneka time," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Three or four minutes to go, and your team really needs you. That's the time that she steps up. She certainly did that tonight."
Parker was ejected with 6:58 remaining in the third quarter after she complained to an official. The Sparks were leading 43-34 at the time, and maintained a lead through the period on 12 points from Ogwumike and seven from Toliver.
"We still got the win, so it's all good," Parker said. "And you know what? We started getting foul calls down the stretch, too. Whatever it takes, I guess."
Parker said she last got ejected in 2011 and joked that she's not a "hothead."
"I'm not going to make this a regular thing," she said. "I have a daughter. I have to pay into her college fund."
Ogwumike scored the first six points of the second quarter and made a layup to make it 50-39. Toliver hit a 3-pointer, a jumper and a teardrop runner with the clock winding down to give the Sparks a 59-51 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Minnesota opened the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run to take a 66-61 lead. Los Angeles called timeout and took the lead at 71-70 on Lindsey Harding's three-point play.
The Lynx have clinched the No. 1 seed in the West and can still secure the top overall seed for the playoffs but the loss was difficult to take. Minnesota, which beat the Sparks in last year's conference finals, has lost its past five regular-season games in Los Angeles.
"We've just got to make plays," Augustus said. "That's what it was all about coming to the end of the fourth quarter. They crashed the glass. Nneka did a great job getting on the boards, and we didn't. That's the difference in the game -- them getting the loose balls, the extra offensive possessions, and we didn't have those."
Parker helped L.A. wake up from a slow start to take a 35-31 lead into the break. She hit a turnaround jumper and another jumper off a pick-and-roll, and made a long stretch pass to Alana Beard to complete a 13-4 run in the second quarter.
Minnesota called timeout twice but scored only 10 points in the second quarter, on 4-for-19 shooting. The Lynx shot 50 percent in the first quarter while L.A. missed 12 of its first 18 shots.