Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles Sparks held a four-point lead with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter when point guard Chelsea Gray knocked down a pullup jumper.
New York turned it over on its next possession and Gray made a pair of free throws to seal the 74-66 win over the Liberty Tuesday night at the Staples Center.
Gray scored a career-high 26 points to help the Sparks secure home court for their playoff opener. The Sparks are tied with Connecticut for the fourth playoff spot and will face each other Sunday in the season finale.
“It’s a defensive fight and a defensive effort,” Gray said. “You build on that from your offense. From here on out, it’s up to us.”
The first half was full of back-and-forth action as both teams traded leads before the Liberty pulled away in the second quarter. A 17-foot jumper by Kia Nurse gave New York a nine-point lead with just under a minute left in the first half.
Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler said it was good for his team to go from a deficit to a lead and then hold on.
“We don’t get to do that very often and it’s great preparation for the playoffs,” Agler said. “That’s like a playoff game. You just have to grind out every single possession.”
The Sparks erased a nine-point deficit in the third quarter before Nneka Ogwumike’s layup tied it at 51. Los Angeles would take a 61-58 lead into the fourth quarter but Bria Hartley’s 3-pointer evened the score, 61-61.
Candace Parker hit a 3-pointer and Gray’s steal and 3-point play gave the Sparks a six-point lead with 6:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sparks led by one before Gray’s final four points sealed the win.
“The hardest thing for a point guard in the WNBA is understand the tempo,” Parker, who scored 14 points with 10 rebounds, said. “She (Gray) controlled the tempo and she controlled the game. Guarding her is tough.”
The Sparks will end the season with two road games before they host its playoff opening game.