A long and winding trip (seven days, four cities) ended here for the unbeaten Sparks against an angry Storm team that had whiffed its first two games and did not want to be embarrassed in its home opener Friday.
And for 39 minutes it was almost a perfect Storm, outplaying and holding off a Los Angeles team sick of hotel rooms, bus rides and spotty food.
But the Sparks detest losing above all. Down, 39-31, at the half, trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half -- and five points with 1:12 remaining -- the Sparks tied the score with four seconds left in regulation and went on to win, 77-74, against a Seattle team that did not have leading scorer Sue Bird in the overtime.
Nikki Teasley was the Sparks’ drama queen, making a three-point shot with four seconds to play to tie the score, 68-68.
Teasley also had the first points in overtime on two free throws with 3:29 remaining. It was the Sparks’ first lead since 3-2, and a lead they clung to until the final buzzer.
“I had missed a three [with 19 seconds left] and got frustrated. I started to put my head down,” said Teasley, who scored 19 points. “But DeLisha Milton told me ‘Don’t worry about it, make it the next time.’ ”
Seattle dropped to 0-3 and may have bigger problems looming. Bird had seven assists and a game-high 22 points. But the sore left knee she injured in San Antonio on May 24 grew more painful as the game wore on. Bird missed an off-balance three-point shot at the buzzer that would have given Seattle the win in regulation. She did not play in the overtime. Seattle officials said after the game Bird’s status was considered day-to-day.
Lisa Leslie led the Sparks with 20 points and 10 rebounds, her third double-double in four games. Mwadi Mabika added 19 points.
The Sparks (4-0) have five days off before their June 5 home opener against Sacramento. Coach Michael Cooper said the team would get some rest. But it would also get some work.
“As a coaching staff we push them to do the right thing,” Cooper said. “I think we can do it for 40 minutes, but we have a sense that we can turn it on when we want to. That’s something we have to rectify in the days we have off.
“This was a tough road trip for us, and we’re lucky to be 4-0. This is our [second to longest] road trip of the year, and some things will get easier. But you can also see ... that you can count on one hand the games that might be a blowout.”
It didn’t figure Seattle, which beat Los Angeles twice in the regular season last year (and was swept by the Sparks in the playoffs), would have any trouble getting up for the game. Privately, the Sparks say the Storm excels at the “chippy” game, as in holding jerseys, sneaky elbows and hips, insulting banter -- anything to try and get into the Sparks’ heads.
And, the Storm hasn’t forgotten Latasha Byears throwing the ball in the face of now-retired guard Michelle Marciniak here last season, which triggered a brief brawl.
The nastiness of this rivalry was on display for both sides Friday. Lauren Jackson (15 points) got technical foul two minutes into the game for taking a whack at Leslie. Milton avoided a technical for subtly pushing Jackson to the floor during a fastbreak. But she got one with 3:09 left to play in the first half for complaining too loudly after the Storm’s Adia Barnes knocked Milton down for an offensive foul and stepped on her while walking away.
In other WNBA games:
Connecticut 91, Houston 83 -- Shannon Johnson scored 31 points for the Sun (1-1) before 7,456 at Houston. The Comets (2-1) tied the score with 8:27 left on two free throws by Cynthia Cooper, but on the second free throw Tina Thompson drew a flagrant foul and ejection for throwing an elbow that hit Katie Douglas’ temple. Houston didn’t get closer than three after that.
Minnesota 75, San Antonio 65 -- Katie Smith scored 21 points and Svetlana Abrosimova had 16 points and nine assists to lead the Lynx (2-1) over the Silver Stars (1-2) before 8,845 at San Antonio. The Lynx closed with a 10-1 run. Margo Dydek had 20 points for San Antonio.
Sacramento 69, Phoenix 49 -- Yolanda Griffith led the Monarchs (2-1) with 22 points and nine rebounds before 17,317 at Sacramento. The Mercury (1-3) made only 33% of its shots.
Associated Press contributed to this report.