MINNEAPOLIS — The Sparks clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday night, and in the process they sent a strong message to a potential first-round opponent.
Kristi Toliver scored 20 of her 29 points in the second half as L.A. beat the Minnesota Lynx, 71-63.
"We're a playoff team and we wanted to do our own work," said Toliver, who hit five three-pointers and tied her career high in scoring. "We didn't want to have to rely on other teams losing and different circumstances. We wanted to take care of our own business, and that's why we came out the way we did tonight. We wanted to close the door."
The Sparks (15-17) are battling the San Antonio Stars for third place in the WNBA's Western Conference. Meanwhile, Minnesota (24-8) is locked into second place after the Phoenix Mercury clinched the top spot in the West by winning at New York against the Liberty on Tuesday.
Beating the Lynx on the road for the first time in four years is a step in the right direction for the Sparks, who were swept by Minnesota in the conference finals two years ago.
"It goes to show that you can play with the big dogs," Sparks Coach Penny Toler said. "I told them I need them to play to their potential because right now, nothing else matters. When you get in the playoffs, you're back at 0-0."
Candace Parker scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half as the Sparks rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit.
The Lynx led 63-62 with two minutes to play, but the Sparks closed the game on a 9-0 run. Toliver put L.A. on top with a turnaround jumper, then buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Sparks a 67-63 lead.
Minnesota had won 11 straight before losing at Phoenix on Saturday. In that game, Diana Taurasi hit a jump shot with 2.9 seconds left and the Lynx couldn't get off a final shot.