MINNEAPOLIS — The Los Angeles Sparks clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday night, and in the process they sent a strong message to a potential first-round opponent.
Kristi Toliver scored 20 of her 29 points in the second half as Los Angeles beat the Minnesota Lynx 71-63.
"We're a playoff team and we wanted to do our own work," said Toliver, who hit five 3-pointers and tied her career high in scoring. "We didn't want to have to rely on other teams losing and different circumstances. We wanted to take care of our own business, and that's why we came out the way we did tonight. We wanted to close the door."
The Sparks (15-17) are battling San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Minnesota (24-8) is locked into second place after Phoenix clinched the top spot in the West by winning at New York on Tuesday.
Beating the Lynx on the road for the first time in four years is a step in the right direction for the Sparks, who were swept by Minnesota in the conference finals two years ago.
"It goes to show that you can play with the big dogs," Sparks coach Penny Toler said. "I told them I need them to play to their potential because right now, nothing else matters. When you get in the playoffs, you're back at 0-0."
Candace Parker scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half as the Sparks rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit.
The Lynx led 63-62 with 2 minutes to play, but Los Angeles closed the game on a 9-0 run. Toliver put Los Angeles on top with a turn-around jumper, and then buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Sparks a 67-63 lead.
Minnesota had won 11 straight before losing at Phoenix on Saturday. In that game, Diana Taurasi hit a jump shot with 2.9 seconds left and the Lynx couldn't get off a final shot.
"It's not like us. We're used to finishing up games," Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen said. "When it comes down to the last seven minutes, you want to be able to execute."
The Lynx made just 2 of 9 3-point attempts on the night and shot 34.4 percent from the field in the second half. But WNBA leading scorer Maya Moore said it's not time to panic.
"I'm not concerned about it snowballing because we're in control of that," said Moore, who led Minnesota with 20 points. "I think we're absolutely going to respond. The good thing is that for us, it's the small things. We're not having problems with anything major. We've just got to tighten some things up, come together and feel the sense of urgency."