Long Beach, CA -- With the possibility of being sent home for the fall, the Los Angeles Sparks (1-1) decided to pull out all the stops in Sunday's playoff game against the Minnesota Lynx (1-1).
In what was technically deemed a "home" game, the Sparks staved off elimination with an 81-71 win at the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State, their second home when the Staples Center hosts special events. In this case, the Emmys were being hosted outside the arena on Sunday.
Candace Parker was the key element for the Sparks, as she provided 25 points to go with 10 rebounds, six assists and a block. What the Lynx were not expecting, however, was the play of reserve rookie guard Ana Dabovic; Dabovic scored 19 points and hit a couple of key three-pointers to keep the energy up for Los Angeles.
Sparks coach Brian Agler had nothing but the highest of praise for Dabovic in their press conference.
"Ana is a gamer," Agler said. "She's fearless and had a tremendous demeanor; she's one of the best players in the world."
Dabovic, a former Eurobasket tournament MVP, was thankful for the praise, but chose to give her teammates the credit.
"Every time I go in the game, I have fun," Dabovic said. "When you have great teammates, everything is easy."
The Sparks got off to an early start, with starting guard Alana Beard scoring five points in the first five minutes of the game. The Lynx' power trio of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, and Sylvia Fowles wouldn't let up easily, scoring a combined 21 of the team's 23 first-quarter points. The Sparks, despite Parker only scoring three points in the quarter, left with a 24-23 lead.
In the second quarter, the Sparks decided to smother the Lynx' trio, daring Moore to beat them by herself. Between the three they only scored seven points in the quarter, with Augustus getting frustrated by their blanket defense, as she went 0 for three.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told the press that they were getting a little heated with their lack of offense. She almost drew a technical after mouthing off to a referee about a missed foul.
"I thought that LA was very physical, and were more impactful in the way they were playing defense compared to the last game," Reeve said.
At the half, the Sparks led 53-35, with Parker going off in the second quarter, scoring 15 points. Going into the third quarter, however, the momentum started to shift. The Lynx, led by Augustus' eight points, outscored the Sparks 20-10.
To make matters worse for Los Angeles, they lost starting forward Nneka Ogwumike to a neck strain in the quarter as well, adding to an already thin bench that saw five of the team's twelve players not suit up.
Going into the fourth, the Sparks still held the lead, 63-55, but it was getting too close for comfort, according to Parker.
"The third quarter can't happen," Parker said. "We're not going to sit on a lead and rest on our laurels. We need to focus on the third quarter, because it's been our problem spot all season."
In the fourth quarter, the Sparks and Lynx dueled up and down the court, with the Lynx getting as close as four points at one point in the quarter. However, the duo of Dabovic and Parker proved to be too much to overcome, as they scored a combined 14 points in the quarter. The Lynx did all they could defensively, but late fouls at the end would prove to be costly for the Lynx.
Reeve was not thrilled about the way her team handled the pressure Sunday.
"I don't think it was a case of us being tired," Reeve said. " Our execution was terrible."
Both teams now go into a win or go home scenario, as the last of the best-of-three semifinal series goes back to the Target Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday. The winner of this series will go to Phoenix on Friday, Sept. 25 to face the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Western Conference Finals.
As far as that game, Agler had a message for his players for the remainder of the playoffs. And to send that message, he referred them to the Indiana Fever's 89-82 series-prolonging win over the Chicago Sky on Saturday, Sept. 19.
"One thing that stood out to me, is that Tamika Catchings (who scored 22 points for the Fever) wouldn't let them lose," Agler said.
"I told my players you're worthy. Worthy means you think you deserve it, so you have to go out and prove it."