With the game on the line, Chelsea Gray led a critical fourth-quarter rally and finished with a career-high 29 points to boost the Los Angeles Sparks to a 78-73 victory over the New York Liberty on Tuesday.
Trailing 69-64 with 4:42 left, the Sparks scored 10 straight points — the last eight by Gray — to take a 74-69 lead with 1:21 left. Tina Charles finally ended the three-plus-minute scoring drought for New York to get the Liberty back within three. After Gray missed on the next possession, New York had a chance to tie, but Charles’ three-pointer bounced off the rim.
“I just sensed we weren’t getting the looks we wanted to and I saw the ball wasn’t moving,” said Gray, who also recorded her 500th career assist. “Looks get better as the ball swings side to side. I saw one go down and it felt good. My teammates were like ‘that’s a good shot and keep doing it.’”
Gray made all four of her free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal the win.
“She’s been working her way back into condition after playing overseas,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “She hasn’t played at this level the first few games, today she did.”
Chiney Ogwumike contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Sparks (2-1), who started a four-game road trip without Candace Parker (hamstring injury), Alana Beard (leg injury) and Maria Vadeeva (overseas commitment).
Alexis Jones added a season-high 10 points while Sydney Weise made a pair of early three-pointers and finished with a career-high eight points for the Sparks. Nneka Ogwumike had nine points and nine rebounds.
Charles finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Her last basket of the game moved her into first place on the franchise all-time scoring list, passing Vicki Johnson with 3,248 points.
Amanda Zahui B. anchored the New York defense. She had six blocked shots — two short of the franchise record set by Kiah Stokes.
The loss was the 16th straight for New York (0-3) dating back to last season.
“Tough one. Best effort of the season out of the three games,” said Liberty coach Katie Smith, who celebrated her 45th birthday. “We had a lot of opportunities to finish this thing off. Three stops in a row that hurt us. We’ve got to find a way to get those in.”
The first half was a back and forth affair with neither team getting more than a five-point lead. Gray’s jumper with about 30 seconds left broke a 34-34 contest and gave the Sparks a two-point lead at the half.