Brittney Sykes, Chelsea Gray help Sparks hold off Dream, clinch playoff berth

Brittney Sykes scored 15 points, Chelsea Gray had 14 β€” including back-to-back baskets in the final minute β€” and the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Atlanta Dream 84-79 on Sunday night to win their ninth consecutive game and clinch a spot in the WNBA playoffs.

Los Angeles is the third team to seal a playoff berth, joining the WNBA-leading Seattle and Las Vegas.

Nneka Ogwumike left in the first half and did not return for the Sparks due to a back injury. Kristine Anigwe started the second half in Ogwumike’s place and finished with nine points and six rebounds. Candace Parker had just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting but added 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Chennedy Carter, who played 17 minutes Friday against Minnesota in her return from a five-game absence due to an ankle injury suffered on Aug. 10, led the Dream with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Courtney Williams scored 15 points and Monique Billings added 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Carter made a layup to give Atlanta a 74-72 lead with 3:27 to play but Sykes scored the next six points before Parker made a driving layup as she was fouled but missed the and-1 free throw and it was 80-74 with 1:11 remaining.

Carter and Gray each made layups before Billings converted a three-point play to make it 82-79 about 40 seconds later. But Gray dribbled into the lane, put on the brakes, and hit a fadeaway from the free-throw line with 8.1 seconds left and the Sparks held on.

Diggins-Smith, Taurasi power Mercury past Lynx

Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 13 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter, Diana Taurasi had 23 points and 12 rebounds and the Phoenix Mercury held off the Minnesota Lynx 83-79 win on Sunday night for their third victory in a row.

Diggins-Smith made all of her 11 free-throw attempts, including four in the final 13 seconds. Brianna Turner scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked four shots for Phoenix (9-7).

The second-year forward continued her strong play in the absence of All-Star centre Brittney Griner β€” who left the bubble for personal reasons last week. Turner is averaging 13 rebounds and 3.7 blocks over the last three games.

Taurasi hit 3-pointers 32 seconds apart to make it 6-5 and the Mercury led the rest of the way. She made another 3 to give Phoenix a 68-53 lead early in the fourth quarter but the Lynx answered with a 12-2 run to trim their deficit to 70-65 with 6:18 to play.

Odyssey Sims made two free throws to cap an 8-0 spurt and make it a three-point game with 1:27 left but Diggins-Smith scored six points in the final minute to seal it.

Canada’s Bridget Carleton of Chatham, Ont., logged 27 minutes for Minnesota, adding three points, three rebounds and an assist in the loss.

Crystal Dangerfield scored 15 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter for Minnesota (10-5). Napheesa Collier finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.

Bonner’s big 2nd half carries Sun over Mystics

DeWanna Bonner had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Alyssa Thomas added 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and the Connecticut Sun beat the Washington Mystics 76-63 on Sunday.

Rookie Kaila Charles scored a season-high 16 points for Connecticut (7-9).

Essence Carson made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 11-8 and the Sun led the rest of the way. Connecticut took a 39-28 lead into halftime and the Mystics trailed by double figures throughout the second half.

Emma Meesseman and Ariel Atkins had 14 points apiece and Kiara Leslie had 11 for Washington (4-11). Myisha Hines-Allen added 12 points, a career-high tying 13 rebounds and six assists.

Connecticut had 26 assists on 31 field goals.

The Mystics shot just 32.2% (19 of 59) from the field and committed 16 turnovers. Washington has lost four in a row and. eight of its last nine since leading-scorer (16.3 points per game) Aerial Powers injured her hamstring in a loss to New York on Aug. 7.

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