The plan was simple.
The Lynx weren’t going to win the WNBA’s Western Conference regular-season title. So the idea was for them to be peaking as the playoffs arrived.
There is reason for concern.
The Los Angeles Sparks scored the final nine points in a 71-63 victory over the Lynx (24-8) on Tuesday night at Target Center.
The Lynx, who have made a habit of closing out games, have now let back-to-back games get away. First Saturday night at Phoenix, when Mercury guard Diana Taurasi dribbled herself to an open game-winning shot. And Tuesday, when Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver dropped 29 points on them, including the dagger: a three-pointer with 57.9 seconds left that gave the Sparks a four-point lead.
Tuesday’s loss was the Lynx’s first to L.A. in four games this season, and it ended an 11-game home winning streak. But if you expected fiery Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve to be raging after this one, you might have been surprised.
“Just told the team this is a disappointing trend for us,” said Reeve, who sounded more dejected than angry. “It’s the second game in a row that, with five minutes to go we didn’t make plays. … I’m disappointed in that. I’m disappointed we let a player go off for 29 points and not be pressed up on. This is not the way we want to play at home.”
Or in the playoffs, which will start after two more regular-season games. The Lynx’s second seed in the West was cemented when Phoenix won at New York earlier Tuesday.
Maya Moore shook off a turned right ankle on the first Lynx possession to score 20 points with seven rebounds three assists and a steal, in the process breaking Seimone Augustus’ team record for points in a season. She now has 773, the third-highest total in league history.
But the Lynx had only one double-digit scorer in a game for the first time since a loss at Atlanta on July 1, 2010. It was also their fewest points at home since a 78-62 loss to New York on Sept. 2, 2011.
And in a thoroughly uncharacteristic turn, the Lynx were the team that blanched down the stretch. Up as many as 11 early in the game, they were outscored 42-27 in the second half, 22-12 in the fourth quarter. Their offense stumbled and their defense disintegrated; the Sparks shot 30 percent in the first quarter, 50 percent the rest of the way, nearly 60 percent in the fourth quarter.
Toliver made 11 of 18 shots, five of nine three-pointers, scoring 10 of her points in the fourth quarter.
Add it up and the Lynx have some work to do.
“There is no better life lesson than not getting what you want,” said Moore, who did her best to carry the team. She had all of her team’s points in an 8-2 run that gave the Lynx the lead at the end of the third quarter. Her second basket of the fourth quarter gave the Lynx a one-point lead with two minutes left.
But the Lynx didn’t score again.
“This is a team that learns from its mistakes,” Moore continued. “It stops the bleeding and stops runs. That’s what makes us one of those teams that has the ability to win at the end. I’m confident that, starting with the captains, we’re going to come closer, come together, overcome challenges like we did in the past.”
The Sparks (15-17) got 16 points and 11 rebounds from Candace Parker, who shook off a turned ankle of her own. It was enough to give Los Angeles its first victory at Target Center in exactly four years. The Sparks also clinched a playoff spot.
The Lynx? Time to get down to business and back to form. “It’s not like us,” Lindsay Whalen said. “We’re used to finishing up games. We need to start playing better.”