With motivation from teammates, Toliver overcomes record number of turnovers to give Los Angeles a thrilling victory over Tulsa

Box score

LOS ANGELES – As a game that featured 10 lead changes and three ties wound to a close Tuesday night, it looked like the Sparks would come up on the short end when Shock point guard Temeka Johnson’s free throws put her team up 75-71, with 16.7 seconds remaining.

But it was Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver who came through for the Sparks – first with a jump shot nine seconds later, and then with a running 24-footer that sailed through the net as time expired, to give the Sparks the 76-75 edge.

Not only was it a stunner for the crowd, it was redemption for Toliver, who had equaled the WNBA record for most turnovers in a game, with 14. She said it was her teammates who kept her going.

“Up until the last part of the game I felt like I let my teammates down by being careless with the ball. I think I was making bonehead plays, and they wanted me to stay positive and take that last shot,” said Toliver. “That confidence being instilled – I knew I was going to knock it down.”

Veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who equaled Toliver’s team-high 16 points, said this attitude reflects a better overall Sparks disposition this season.

“We’re having more fun because we learned a lesson from last year,” she said. “(Last season) we had a lot of moments where the Sparks had mental breakdowns. A lot of moments where people were more concerned with themselves than the team. And this year it’s all about having fun and being a family. At the end of the day we’re going to love each other and protect each other.”

It took some time in the game for Los Angeles to get back to that point, after opening with an 11-0 run and a 25-15 first quarter lead. Tulsa outscored them in the second quarter, to cut the lead to four by halftime. They outscored them again in the third, to take a 55-52 lead going into the last period. The fourth quarter was an all-out battle, featuring three of the game’s lead changes and three ties.

Shock rookie guard Riquna Williams came off the bench for 19 points, five steals and five rebounds. Temeka Johnson added 13 and Ivory Latta, 11.

Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg said it was defense that got his team back into the game after a slow start. Indeed, they forced the Sparks into 28 turnovers., and they grabbed 14 steals to Los Angeles’ eight. Their shooting, however, was only 36.2 percent. The Shock, now 0-4, have lost three consecutive games by three points or less.

“We’ve got to get a win and get our kids some confidence, and it’s hard when you’ve got one like this and it’s just snatched out,” Kloppenburg said. “They want to win so badly, and they’re playing so hard.”

“Eventually we’ll get one of these – we’re right in there. I’d rather be there than down 12 at the end of the game.”

Sparks Coach Carol Ross gave the Shock credit.

“When we stopped scoring they started scoring, and when we scored it gave them time to set the defense – that’s what they hang their hat on. That’s what they play and they play it very well,” said Ross.

“Anytime you jump out to a big lead it’s always hard to maintain it. This Tulsa team is well equipped to come back because they just never quit, and they play with such energy and they play so hard and aggressively. They’re forcing an average of 26 turnovers per game in their first four games.”

Sparks rookie Nnemkadi Ogwumike overcame foul trouble to net 14 points and grab seven rebounds. But Ross acknowledged her team is short on guards, with the loss of Sharnee’ Zoll for the season due to injury. She said the Sparks hope to find a replacement player for Zoll within the next two weeks.

The 4-1 Sparks face Seattle Sunday and Phoenix a week from Friday, both at home.

Game notes:

  • The Sparks were 23-23 from the free throw line
  • The Tulsa bench outscored the Los Angeles bench 43-10
  • Attendance: 8,312
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