For the announced 13,003 fans at Target Center on Friday night — and to all the Lynx fans who didn’t attend — the team’s 94-76 loss to Los Angeles was deflating, akin to a playoff loss.
For the players, however, the outcome meant little. This was just one game, all agreed. Don’t try to read too much into it.
“In this league, everybody is trying to beat everybody,” Sparks star forward Candace Parker said. “This is a regular-season game, so we both play other games. This isn’t the be-all, end-all.”
While Parker is Los Angeles’ marquee name, it was Sparks guard Kristi Toliver who proved too much for the Lynx to handle. Toliver scored a season-high 25 points, tying her career high of seven three-pointers, as the Lynx suffered their first loss of the season.
The Lynx had set a WNBA record by winning their first 13 games of the season, the 13th coming Tuesday when they ended the Sparks’ 11-0 start by winning 72-69 in Los Angeles on Renee Montgomery’s late three-pointer. Friday, Los Angeles returned the favor.
“It was just fun to have a buzz like this going during the regular season,” said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, who was held to four points. “We just had two great games with them, but they were regular-season games.”
Before the game, there was speculation about whether Lynx star Maya Moore would play after missing much of Tuesday’s fourth quarter because of a left thigh bruise. The forward put to rest early any worries about her health, scoring six quick points, including four on a pair of steals and layups in the midst of an 8-0 run that led to a 12-7 lead.
Moore was at her best after halftime, but this was a rare occasion when even that wasn’t enough. Moore scored 28 points, making six of 12 three-pointers.
The real culprit for the Lynx was Los Angeles’ interior defense and rebounding. The Lynx had outrebounded the Sparks by 13 on Tuesday, leading to 20 second-chance points. Los Angeles won the rebounding battle Friday 29-28 and gave up only six points on offensive rebounds.
“They had 17 offensive rebounds on our home floor and we knew that, if we wanted to win, we couldn’t let that happen again,” Parker said.
That lack of an interior presence was magnified by the perimeter excellence of Toliver. Creating space and looking more comfortable on the road than the Lynx would have liked, the 5-7 guard wielded the pin every time the Lynx balloon would begin to inflate.
“They got Toliver going early and that was unfortunate,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She put on quite a show from three-point land.”
Sparks coach Brian Agler wasn’t surprised. “She sort of flies under the radar because we have Candace and we have Nneka [Ogwumike], but Kristi’s had a helluva year,” he said.
Ogwumike had 20 points and Parker 14, and each had nine rebounds.
Besides Moore, the only other Lynx player in double figures was Jia Perkins with 13 points.
The Lynx, a step slow for most of the game, showed some spark in the fourth quarter. Lindsay Whalen brought the crowd to its feet midway through the final quarter with a spectacular length-of-the-court spinning layup for a traditional three-point play, making the score 71-68 and bringing hope.
But that was as close as the Lynx would get. Los Angeles outscored them 23-8 the rest of the way.
“I thought they had way more bounce in their step than we did,” Reeve said. “Our players were disappointed for [the fans] that they didn’t get the ‘W’ for them. That’s what this group and the 13,000 here watching them deserves.”