Fowles, Lynx hang on late again, beat Sparks 84-77

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In her final regular season game in Los Angeles, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles was nearly perfect. The rest of her team?

Good enough.

In their continuing quest to try to make the WNBA playoffs, the Lynx beat the Sparks 84-77 Sunday to start their three-game road trip 2-0. And they won much like they won in Atlanta on Thursday.

And that's both good and not so good.

The good: The Lynx shot 54.4%, outrebounded the Sparks and led nearly start to finish, ensuring a season series edge over the Sparks, which could be an important tiebreaker. And they defended, pretty much start to finish.

The not so good: The Lynx let a 20-point lead with just under 6½ minutes left in the game shrink to five with 50.6 seconds left thanks to turnovers (L.A. scored 26 points off 20 Lynx turnovers) and two late flagrant foul calls that helped the Sparks' cause. (Though, to be fair — and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was quick to point it out — it appeared Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike actually slapped Lynx forward Jessica Shepard in one scrum under the net and managed not to get ejected.)

But it was a victory.

"I'm thrilled," Reeve said. "I'm not going to downplay this at all. This is a team that's hanging in there, trying to control our own destiny. We understand how hard it will be. But we're not focused on that . We want to be the best we can."

The Lynx (12-19) pulled within a game of the eighth-place Sparks (12-17) in the battle for the final WNBA playoff spot. Minnesota is a half-game behind ninth-place Atlanta (12-18) and is 1½ games behind seventh-place Phoenix.

The Lynx hold tiebreakers over both the Mercury and Sparks because they won the season series against both teams. The Lynx have split two games with the Dream, with one game left.

It won't be easy. The Lynx have five games left. Two are against fourth-place Seattle, including a game there Wednesday. There is a game with Phoenix, one with Atlanta and a season-ending game at home with third-place Connecticut.

But the Lynx, as Reeve said, are starting to play with an identity. That includes defense, another stellar performance from Fowles and a continued resurgence from point guard Moriah Jefferson.

Fowles was 8-for-9 for 16 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes, in the process becoming the fifth player in league history with more than 2,500 made field goals.

What does that mean to her? "It means I'm kinda old," she said. "But I'm thankful for every second."

That stellar efficiency was due in large part to Jefferson's aggressive play. Jefferson scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. That included a season-best 16 first-half points. It was Jefferson and Fowles who helped the Lynx shoot nearly 70% while scoring 52 first-half points. As Jefferson's sore knee heals, her game is taking off.

"My job is to be aggressive," she said.

Unfortunately, that only put them up nine at the break. But the Lynx pushed that lead to 14 after three and up to 20 before things got crazy.

BOXSCORE: Lynx 84, Los Angeles 77

But here's another way to think about Sunday's victory: Playing on the road, against a team as desperate for a win as they were, the Lynx beat the Sparks despite being outscored 26-9 on points off turnovers and 19-4 on second-chance points.

You do that with defense, holding L.A. under 40% shooting. And, as Fowles said, with some grit. Kayla McBride added 15 points. Rachel Banham scored 10. That was enough to hand the Sparks their third straight loss despite 23 points from Ogwumike and 15 from Brittney Sykes.

"Let's not forget, this is Syl's last year," Reeve said. "We're trying desperately to give her another shot at the playoffs."

The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.