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Toliver's surge against Lynx powers Sparks to playoffs

Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver hit 11 of 18 shots, and was not affected by anyone who guarded her against Minnesota Tuesday night.
Abe Booker

Kristi Toliver effectively ensured her Los Angeles Sparks would secure their place in the post-season Tuesday night against the Minnesota Lynx.

The sixth-year guard scored a game-high 29 points in a 71-63 win for the Sparks, including 20 in the second half. In her previous four games, Toliver had scored a combined 28 points, but that concern was erased with Los Angeles clinching a playoff berth in their third "win and you're in" situation.

"We didn't want to rely on other teams losing. We wanted to take care of our own business," Toliver said. "We just stayed steady and composed down the stretch."

Sparks (15-17) head coach Penny Toler has christened Toliver with the nickname "Ice Princess," a reference to her composure in the 2014 season.

"The reason I call her that is because Toliver always stays like this no matter what's happening. She got us going when we got stuck a couple times. She played hard defensively. Toliver is a big-game player," Toler said.

Candace Parker aided the Sparks with 16 points and 11 rebounds, getting her sixth double-double of the season.

Outside of 20 points from Maya Moore, Minnesota (24-8) struggled to generate consistent rhythm on offense. No other Lynx player reached double-digits, and the team mustered just 27 points in the second half. Minnesota failed to score in the final two minutes of regulation, allowing Los Angeles to get nine unanswered points.

Minnesota's loss ultimately had no bearing in the standings, with Phoenix taking the top seed in the Western Conference with a win over New York. However, the game was far from meaningless for Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, who expressed disappointment over her team's lack of execution.

"I don't think we played our worst game today, but we didn't close the game out at all. We've got to figure out how we want to end this thing," she said.

The lone note of optimism for the Lynx was Moore achieving the single-season franchise scoring record, passing the mark set by Seimone Augustus in 2007. Moore also took third place on the WNBA single-season scoring list, but the fourth-year forward was more cognizant of her squad's current predicament.

"It's just a matter of tightening up, coming together, being as locked in and connected as possible. Everybody feeling that sense of urgency, finding a way of doing it together," she said.

Throughout the 2014 season, Los Angeles has encountered chemistry issues that have mitigated their potential effectiveness. The disarray was enough to replace Carol Ross with Toler as head coach, which is never an easy transition in the middle of a season. A signature win could provide a strong remedy for the Sparks, no matter who they face in the first round of the playoffs.

"It's been a long year. We've had players in and out, me being one of them," Toliver said. "Now we're getting into a rhythm. We want to be able to maintain that."

If the season ended now, Los Angeles would face Minnesota in the opening round of the Western Conference post-season.

Minnesota has two days to sort out their situation before embarking on their final regular season road game, when they visit San Antonio, another team currently battling for a playoff spot.