The crowd gave the Sparks a standing ovation.
The players high-fived each other for a job well done.
The Sparks’ bench then greeted the starters near midcourt.
This may have been the middle of the third quarter following a timeout, but it was safe for everyone to express their feelings. The Sparks’ 78-63 victory over the Minnesota Lynx before an announced crowd of 9,181 at Staples Center on Wednesday wasn’t official at that point.
But it was inevitable.
The Sparks went on a 9-1 run for a 48-38 third-quarter lead with 5:14 remaining. It prompted Minnesota to call timeout and it revealed the early signs of what became the Sparks’ third consecutive victory.
It also put the 11-13 Sparks in a tie with the 11-13 San Antonio Silver Stars and half a game ahead of the Lynx for the Western’s Conference’s final two playoff spots with 10 games remaining.
The Sparks play San Antonio on Friday.
“The fight isn’t over yet,” Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. “We still have some work to do. But it’s nice to know we can compete.”
The Sparks showed that throughout the game. Center Lisa Leslie scored a season-high 28 points and shot 13 of 15 from the field. In a game he said was Leslie’s best since the 2006 season, Cooper credited her with “taking it upon her shoulders to make sure we wouldn’t lose this game.”
Leslie said “it wasn’t about me” and that “we were just trying to will us the win.”
There were also other areas that contributed to the victory.
Backup guard Noelle Quinn (13 points, 5 of 10) and forward DeLisha Milton-Jones (12 points, 13 of 15) also scored in double digits. The Sparks held Minnesota to 34.3% shooting, adjusting to the Lynx’s matchup zone and closing the first half with a 10-4 run to tie it up at 35-35.
They kept the energy up by starting early in layup lines and outscoring Minnesota, 25-9, in the third quarter.
“It was a crescendo type of thing all throughout the night,” Milton-Jones said. “It kept getting bigger and bigger, to the point the other team was looking like they don’t know what to do.”
For a team fighting to remain relevant in the playoff hunt, the Sparks aren’t distinguishing their wins.
The mood in the locker room sounded more stoic than excited, even though this victory provided an extra boost against a team also in the playoff hunt.
The Sparks have a 2-1 series lead against Minnesota, which could come in handy if the teams end the season with identical records.
Nonetheless, the Sparks have seen several glimpses of their potential fizzle.
Though their latest three-game stretch suggests they are on the verge of making the playoffs, the Sparks aren’t assuming anything until it’s official.
“We don’t want to look far ahead,” Quinn said. “At least we’re finally starting to play together and knowing each other’s tendencies. But I don’t want to put it out there and say we have turned the corner.”