Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles Sparks held a three-point lead with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter when point guard Chelsea Gray nailed a pull-up jumper to extend the lead, 70-65.
Nneka Ogwumike hit three free throws in the final minute to seal the Sparks 75-68 win over Minnesota and eliminate the defending champions from the playoffs Tuesday night at the Staples Center.
Los Angeles advanced to the second round of the WNBA playoffs and will face the third-seeded Washington Mystics on Thursday in Washington D.C.
“Every time we play Minnesota, games are tight and competitive,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler said. “I’m just happy we made some plays. We made a really good surge in the second quarter but they battled back.”
After a tight first quarter, the Sparks erased an 11-point lead and went on a 13-2 run to tie it at 34. Gray and Ogwumike combined for 23 points in the second quarter and the Sparks took a 40-37 lead into halftime.
“We were down 11 and Nneka was like, no this stops now,” Gray, who finished with 26 points, said. “I think that’s what we needed; that energy to push forward. We just needed to push to another level.”
Gray and Riquna Williams caught fire from beyond the arc in the third quarter, draining four consecutive three-pointers to fuel a 14-4 run.
“Making plays and taking care of the ball,” Ogwumike said. “We were able to do that in the stretch. We had a few lapses but we maintained our composure.”
Ogwumike scored 19 points while Williams added 17 points. Candace Parker struggled and was held to two points. Agler said Parker wasn’t feeling well tonight and was suffering from a stomach flu.
Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen, who is retiring, finished with nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Sparks will use Wednesday to travel and prepare to take on the Mystics in the second round. Agler said they will meet, watch film and talk then get into a game day routine on Thursday.
“When we have one day betweens games and travel like this, it’s just as important to do everything you can to be rested,” Agler said. “You can prep all day long but if you’re not rested, you’re not going to be able to execute.”