Lynx take down Sparks in battle of heavyweights

Published 10:36 am Thursday, September 5, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s home dominance of the Los Angeles Sparks continued Wednesday night in a likely playoff preview.

Siemone Augustus scored 23 points to lead the Lynx to a physical 83-74 win over the Sparks in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference.

Maya Moore added 20 points for the Lynx, who pulled away in the second half to increase their lead over the Sparks in the standings to 2 1/2 games. It was the fifth consecutive win for Minnesota, which beat the Sparks in the conference finals last season.

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As Minnesota tunes up for what they hope will be a third straight trip to the WNBA Finals, teammates say Augustus is stepping up her offensive game at the right time.

“We expect that out of her. She’s a great player and an Olympian,” said Janel McCarville, who had 12 points. “When she’s in that zone it’s hard for defenses to stop here. They kind of threw everything at her.”

Candace Parker scored a game-high 25 points and Kristi Toliver had 14 as Los Angeles lost its second straight.

Trailing by as many as 16 in the second half, the Sparks put together a 13-3 run to pull to 74-68 with a minute remaining. But Augustus hit a long-range jumper and Moore — the conference’s player of the month for August — drained four free throws to end the rally.

The teams have one meeting remaining next Thursday in Los Angeles. The home team has won 13 of the last 14 regular season meetings in the series.

Parker said falling behind early was all too familiar for the Sparks.

“We’ve had that throughout the season. We’ve had collapses in quarters,” Parker said. “Every time we’re trying to fight back in the fourth because we gave it away in the first or second quarter.”

Emotions boiled late in the game when a quick shoving match led to technical fouls for McCarville and Nneka Ogwumike of the Sparks.

“It’s my understanding that WWE was in town last night and (Janel) was in attendance,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve joked. “She maybe fed off that a little bit. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but that’s what her teammates suggested.”

McCarville hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Lynx a 45-33 lead after a first half that featured several momentum swings.

The Lynx hit their first four shots for an 8-0 lead then went 3-for-13 the rest of the first quarter. The Sparks stormed back to tie it at 18 after 10 minutes. Marissa Coleman hit a 3 early in the second quarter to give Los Angeles a 23-20 lead before Minnesota finished the first half on a 25-10 run.

“Turnovers dug us a hole in that second quarter, and it really got them energized, got the crowd into it,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “Those are things you don’t want to happen. They’re good enough without all that.”

Parker led the Sparks in the first half with 14 points, while Augustus had 10.

Lindsey Whalen was the only Minnesota starter who didn’t reach double digits, finishing with nine points, but she had a career-best 14 assists.