SEATTLE – It started with an innocent spurt that only seemed as if it would make an inevitable season-opening loss for Los Angeles a bit more respectable.
Before she knew it, Kristi Toliver and the Sparks were pulling off one of their most improbable victories.
Toliver scored 10 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter and the Sparks overcame a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Seattle Storm 72-66 on Friday night in the WNBA season opener.
Los Angeles outscored Seattle 30-10 in the fourth quarter, taking its first lead of the game on Toliver's baseline reverse layup with 1:38 remaining. The Sparks had lost seven of their previous nine games against Seattle.
"It's something that we haven't shown in the past. It's good to see this team show it from game one," Toliver said. "We started off slow and were able to fight back. In this building, it's something that doesn't come easy, so we're very proud of it."
Candace Parker added 11 points for Los Angeles, including a pair of key baskets in the comeback, and a tough shot in the lane with 28 seconds left. But Parker was on the bench while most of the heavy work was being done as the Sparks whittled away at a 54-33 deficit with 2:48 left in the third quarter.
Los Angeles' massive rally started with a 10-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, pulling to 56-48 with 7:54 left on DeLisah Milton-Jones' jumper. Jantel Lavender hit a baseline jumper for the Sparks, and Toliver scored on a drive to cut Seattle's lead to 56-52. After Tina Thompson's 3-pointer rimmed out for Seattle, Alana Beard converted a difficult left-handed layup while being fouled. She missed the free throw, but the lead was just two.
Sue Bird answered with a baseline layup with 5:29 left, Seattle's first points of the fourth quarter. Seattle pushed its lead back to 62-56 with 4:20 left when Tanisha Wright scored on a fast-break layup, but the Storm were outscored 16-4 the rest of the way.
Parker's tip of her own miss with 2:58 left pulled Los Angeles even at 62-all. After an exchange of missed 3s, Ann Wauters was fouled on the baseline, but could only split the free throws. Toliver then got free on the baseline for a reverse layup and the Sparks' first lead. Toliver padded the advantage by bouncing in a 3-pointer with 1 minute left. Camille Little's three-point play for Seattle gave the Storm a final glimmer, but Parker's basket with 30 seconds proved to be enough.
"It's hard to hold a lead like that," Parker said. "When you're up by that much you tend to try and hold the ball and try not to let the other team score and we took advantage of that. They were back on their heels."
Toliver was brilliant providing Los Angeles the energy off the bench they lacked in the early going when Seattle jumped to an 11-0 lead and appeared on the verge of turning the game into a blowout. Toliver was 9 of 16 from the field and was even left shaking her head when her late 3 took a favorable bounce.
Nneka Ogwumike, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, finished with nine points — all in the second half. Beard added nine points also.
Wauters led Seattle with 17 points, and Bird had 15. Seattle opened the season without three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson, who is back in her native Australia taking the first-half of the WNBA season off to prepare for the London Olympics. It's become common for Seattle to play without Jackson in recent seasons due to injuries. But this is the first time Seattle has enjoyed an entire offseason to prepare for being without one of the best players in the world.
They looked fine for most of the night without Jackson around. Seattle led 24-8 in the first quarter and pushed its lead to 21 in the third when Tina Thompson knocked down her fourth 3-pointer of the game. But that's when it all fell apart for Seattle.
"I'm hoping that's as bad as we'll be in the fourth quarter," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "We don't want to see that again."