Sparks forward Candance Parker tries to drive for a basket against Lynx… (Stacy Bengs / Associated…)
MINNEAPOLIS — — Kristi Toliver stood, glaring, with her hands on her hips as the seconds ticked away, the Minnesota Lynx nursing its final possession in a game in which it controlled most of them.
It was a fitting stance, considering there wasn't much else the Sparks could do. Their too-little-too-late effort had failed to make up for a sluggish second quarter that did them in, 94-77, in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals.
Minnesota's final shot was answered with a Sparks three-pointer from Marissa Coleman, but Candace Parker and Toliver's last-chance surge fell far short and minutes later, players in purple jerseys were dusted with the wrong-colored confetti as they slumped off the Target Center court.
"I just don't think we woke up until 6 minutes and 39 seconds left in the third quarter," a disconsolate Parker said, looking back at Game 1 of the semifinals against San Antonio, when the Sparks also started slowly but overcame. "This team just didn't wait for us to wake up. I can tolerate a loss if you fight, but I think for three-fourths of the game, we just laid down and took it."
Minnesota was dishing it early by slowing L.A.'s signature fastbreak, limiting the Sparks' shots and rebounding opportunities and largely shutting down the league's No. 2 offense. Toliver, who averaged 26 points in the Sparks' previous two playoff games, was completely muted for most of the game, managing just two points until going off for 10 with 51/2 minutes left and the Sparks buried.
"If it's her night, she's a lot of fun to watch on the offensive end," Sparks Coach Carol Ross said. "She was not her typical self."
The Sparks trailed by just one point at the end of the first quarter, but minutes into the second Minnesota went on a 17-5 run to take an 18-point lead. Despite Parker's five points in the final 48 seconds of the half, the Lynx kept the differential at 17 at the break on a tremendous one-handed putback by Lindsay Whalen after Candice Wiggins' three-point attempt went astray.
Parker's 12 third-quarter points (she scored 25 overall) helped the Sparks close to within 10 early in the fourth period and it looked for a minute as if the star could help craft an unlikely turnaround. In the end, the Lynx's balanced attack was too strong and there simply wasn't enough time.
"Tonight we had a lot of breakdowns on both ends of the floor, and when you're playing against a team that is loaded like the Minnesota Lynx are … you're going to get yourself into a world of trouble," the Sparks' DeLisha Milton-Jones said. "What you can expect on Sunday [in Los Angeles] is a better showing of the Sparks."