Clinging to a four-point lead after one quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Staples Center, the Sparks needed someone to get hot from the outside to soften up the opponent’s defense.
Alexis Jones answered the call, scoring 14 of her career-best 15 first-half points in the second quarter to ignite a 31-18 surge that gave the Sparks a 49-32 halftime bulge on their way to an 81-71 victory over the Minnesota Lynx that snapped a two-game losing streak.
Now in her third WNBA season, the 5-foot-9 guard from Baylor went five for five from the floor in the second quarter, which ended with star forward Candace Parker dribbling the length of the court in 5.3 seconds for a layup that capped the Sparks’ 31-point effort in 10 minutes.
“Sometimes it’s hard for our bench players to get minutes, but Lex works really hard and she had this game circled on the calendar for sure,” Sparks first-year head coach Derek Fisher said. “Whenever you face your former team, it brings extra focus. You want to show you were good enough when you were there, and she didn’t play in the first game in Minneapolis.”
Parker filled the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and one block and guard Chelsea Gray added 17 points as the Sparks (16-10) won their ninth straight at home and remained in second place in the Western Conference, two games behind Las Vegas (19-9).
Los Angeles led by as many as 30 points before the Lynx made a game of it in the fourth quarter. Lexie Brown came off the bench to score 20 points and forward Napheesa Collier added 14 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota (13-15).
“Tonight we stayed committed to defense and the offense eventually came around,” Fisher said. “We gave away the big lead, but whenever you get up by 20, 30 or 40 it’s hard to keep it that way. The other team has a lot of pride too.”
The teams have an intense rivalry dating to the 2016 Finals, when the Sparks prevailed in five games to capture their third WNBA title. The Lynx beat Los Angeles in the 2017 Finals and last season the Sparks eliminated Minnesota in the first round.
The Sparks won this season’s first meeting in Minnesota 89-85 on June 8 led by Riquna Williams (25 points) and Gray (21 points, four assists). Williams did not play Tuesday, serving the last of a 10-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in Florida that led to her arrest on April 29.
“Getting Riquna back is a big lift for us,” Fisher said.