Sparks rally to beat Dream in OT

Sparks rally to beat Dream in OT

The playoffs start now for the Sparks.

Two days after Coach Derek Fisher challenged his team to perform in a way that demands the respect he feels it deserves, Los Angeles had to fight to avoid dropping a home game it could not afford to lose Tuesday against an opponent reeling from five straight defeats.

Kristi Toliver sank a fade-away jumper at the buzzer to tie the score 74-74 and force overtime, and Los Angeles outscored the Atlanta Dream 11-6 in the extra session to pull out a much-needed 85-80 victory.

Erica Wheeler put the win on ice with two free throws to put the Sparks up 85-80 with 23.4 seconds left in overtime.

Six players finished in double figures for the Sparks.

Although the execution was not always there, the effort was as the Sparks prevailed for the 17th straight time at Staples Center.

Courtney Williams made a 15-foot turn-around jumper with five seconds left to put Atlanta up 74-72.

The first quarter was a game of streaks and it ended with the teams tied 17-17. Atlanta scored 10 straight points to take a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter and took a 36-30 lead to intermission.

The Sparks were trying to maintain momentum after Sunday’s 75-70 victory over Indiana that ended their six-game losing streak. After starting the second half strong, Los Angeles came up empty on three straight possessions and back-to-back baskets by Monique Billings grew the Dream’s lead to 10 points with 3:22 left in the third quarter.

Wheeler’s three-pointer pulled the Sparks within six, 55-49, heading to the fourth quarter. She hit another three-pointer to pull her team even at 66-66 and Brittney Sykes swished a floater to tie the score 70-70 with 1:33 left.

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike guards Atlanta forward Tiana Hawkins in the first quarter.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Wheeler made a runner to tie it 72-72 with 36.4 seconds remaining.

“KT is KT and we trust her to do KT things,” Sykes said of Toliver’s game-tying shot at the end of regulation. “I knew it was going in.”

The Sparks beat Atlanta 84-79 in Bradenton, Fla., almost one year earlier to clinch a playoff spot. Los Angeles is host to Atlanta again Thursday night.

On Sunday, Nneka Ogwumike returned to the lineup from a knee injury and scored 12 points. She had 13 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 37:38 of court time Tuesday.

Sykes scored a team-high 17 points, Wheeler had 16, Amanda Zahui B had 14, Toliver scored 11 and Nia Coffey added 10 for the Sparks (8-13). Odyssey Sims led all the scorers with 26 points for the Dream (6-15).

Los Angeles entered the contest 11/2 games out of a playoff berth. The Sparks have 11 games left in the regular season — eight of those on the road — and still have time to make the postseason.

The Sparks started the night averaging a league-low 73.3 points while shooting a league-worst 39.8% from the field.

The Sparks recorded back-to-back wins for the first time since June 3 (Indiana) and June 5 (Chicago) at the Convention Center.

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