New York forward Amanda Zahui B. scored a career-high 37 points and Kia Nurse added 26 to help the Liberty defeat the Sparks 98-92 at Staples Center on Saturday night.
When the Sparks (4-3) played the Liberty (3-5) on June 4, Chelsea Gray’s season-high 29 points led the Sparks to a 78-73 victory in a game that started at 8 a.m. PDT.
Zahui B. returned the favor. She had for 24 points in an 18-minute span, making four of five from three-point range.
Entering the game Zahui B. had made only five of 23 from long range, but she made seven of eight Saturday.
“Amanda shot the ball well tonight. That’s not something that normally happens,” said Sparks coach Derek Fisher. “You can’t come into a game assuming anything you have to come in and play one possession at a time. So I thought the Liberty did a better job at that. They were quicker to the basketball at times.”
Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds, scored on a cut to the basket in the closing seconds to give the Sparks a 50-48 lead at halftime.
New York’s Tina Charles, the 2012 WNBA League MVP, was held in check most of the night. She made two of seven shots and finished with nine points.
“For me personally, I tried my best to make her earn every basket.” forward Nnena Ogwumike said.
“I’m happy I was able to do that, but at the end of the day, it’s a team effort and we have to be able to stop their big guns. To allow someone to go off as Amanda ... we have to be better with that.”
The Sparks opened the third quarter exchanging baskets with the Liberty until a 7-0 run spearheaded by Gray and Chiney Ogwumike gave the Sparks a 67-60 lead with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
The lead was short-lived as the Liberty would tie the score 69-69 with 1:34 remaining in the quarter.
Sparks guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter but her replacement didn’t miss a beat.
Alexis Jones scored two back-to-back three pointers to give the Sparks an 84-79 lead.
Transition baskets by Tiffany Bias and two free throws by Nurse put the Liberty back in striking distance, trailing 84-83 with 4:51 remaining.
Zahui B.’s seventh three-pointer put the Liberty head 90-88 with 1:11 left in the game.
Two free throws by Nurse gave the Liberty a 96-90 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“They had nothing to do with the unforced turnovers we made. They have nothing to with [us] not having the discipline at times to move the ball from one side to the other and getting stuck on one side,” Fisher said. “They didn’t present any challenges we haven’t seen before, but they do deserve credit for finishing the game.
Gray, who has become the Sparks’ go-to player down the stretch, struggled in the fourth quarter, making one of five shots before scoring the team’s final points.
The Liberty outscored the Sparks 26-20 in the fourth quarter. Nneka Ogwumike fouled out with 15.1 seconds remaining.
“We were fighting but it was hard for us to push through because of how our body felt,” Chiney Ogwumike said.
“That feeling we had today, were going to remember it and push through in a Game 5 scenario or a Game 3 down the road. We know we can’t leave anything out there.”