Tina Thompson let out an uncharacteristic smile and hugged DeLisha Milton-Jones amid a bath of purple and gold confetti after the Sparks narrowly clinched a playoff berth during their final home game.
This coming from a woman who didn't flinch during multiple standing ovations when she became the league's all-time leading scorer two weeks ago.
The Sparks, who had flirted with the bottom of the Western Conference for much of the season, beat the Minnesota Lynx, 98-91, in front of an announced crowd of 13,154. The victory guaranteed them their 11th playoff appearance in 14 seasons, which will begin Wednesday or Thursday when they face either No. 1 Seattle or No. 2 Phoenix in the opening game of a best-of three-series.
"I feel great," said Thompson, who had a game-high 26 points. "But this is what we expected to do. The ultimate goal is a championship."
The Sparks (13-20) and the Lynx (12-21) entered Friday's game at Staples Center in a tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with two games remaining.
For a while, it looked as though the Sparks were going to return to a devastated locker room. The Lynx held control the majority of the game and led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter.
But in the fourth, the Sparks were remarkable. They took their first lead in the second half after Thompson converted a free throw with 6:16 remaining, and went on to outscore the Lynx, 34-22, on 12-for-14 shooting.
"We just had some very good looks at the basket," said Milton-Jones, who scored 24 points, including 10 in the fourth. "Their defense just collapsed."
First-year Sparks Coach Jennifer Gillom jumped up and down outside the Sparks' locker room after the game, shouting, "Sweet victory, baby."
"They fought through adversity all of this season and we're here," Gillom said.
The Sparks are tied for third with the San Antonio Silver Stars and face league-leading Seattle on Saturday in their final regular-season game, which could determine whether they finish seeded third or fourth.
"We can't get too high," Milton-Jones said. "We have a big game tomorrow."