Photo by Kailas Images.

Seattle Storm Vs. L.A. Sparks: Sue Bird's Late-Game Heroics Get Another Win At KeyArena

The Seattle Storm host the Los Angeles Sparks at 6 p.m. at KeyArena on ESPN2 in a game with playoff implications for both teams and the Western Conference playoff race. Today's game is the first of a back to back pair that will finish out the regular season series between the two. Although the Storm won the last meeting between the two teams, the Sparks blew the Storm out at the Staples Center earlier this season. In addition to being available on national television, the game will be broadcast online at ESPN3.com. For more on the Storm, visit our Seattle Storm section. For more on the WNBA in general, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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2011 WNBA Playoff Picture: Minnesota Lynx Clinch Western Conference, Seattle Storm One Game Away From Clinching Playoff Berth

With a thrilling 65-63 victory at KeyArena against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Seattle Storm not only remained a half game ahead of the third place Phoenix Mercury in second place in the Western Conference but also moved within a game of clinching a playoff berth.

The Storm will have an opportunity to clinch that playoff berth on Tuesday evening in Los Angeles, adding drama to an already intense rivalry after an intense game tonight. A win would would also win the season series for the Storm, giving them the tiebreaker with the Sparks if things come to that.  If they don't win on Tuesday, the next Storm win or L.A. loss will guarantee the Storm a playoff spot.

But a loss on Tuesday would put the Sparks in quite a bind.

"We need to win," said Sparks forward Candace Parker after the loss at KeyArena on Sunday night. "If we play like that, I feel like we'll win all the games. Unfortunately we don't have a lot of games left, but I'm still hopeful."

The Sparks remain 1.5 games behind the fourth place San Antonio Silver Stars for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Although people will look at the Sparks' loss to the Tulsa Shock on Friday night as a major setback, they still are not out of it - beating the Indiana Fever on August 18 still stands out as a big win for them and will give them some slack moving forward as four of their five remaining games are at home. 

As close as they played Seattle at KeyArena, Tuesday's game at the Staples Center is quite winnable for them. Then after a game in Phoenix, their final three games are at home, including a head-to-head meeting with the Silver Stars for a chance to gain a game on them directly. Nevertheless, the Sparks' consecutive close losses could end up stinging even more if they miss the playoffs.

The Silver Stars have six games remaining, including their final two of the season against the 3-25 Tulsa Shock and 5-23 Washington Mystics. With Danielle Adams back, it's not inconceivable that they could go on a late-season run to create some space between themselves and the Sparks. But after losing consecutive games to the first place Minnesota Lynx, their trip to the playoffs might not be long or particularly pleasant.

With the Silver Stars' loss to the Lynx on Sunday in San Antonio, the Lynx clinched first place in the Western Conference and are now competing with the Eastern Conference's Indiana Fever - currently only 1.5 games ahead of the second place Connecticut Sun - for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Their magic number currently stands at three.

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Seattle Storm Vs. L.A. Sparks Final Score: Sue Bird's Late-Game Free Throws Get A 65-63 Win

On an otherwise dismal scoring night for point guard Sue Bird, a late mistake by Los Angeles Sparks guard Kristi Toliver made her the hero once again in the Seattle Storm's 65-63 win at KeyArena tonight.

Toliver knew she had made a mistake the moment the referee whistled her for a foul on Bird with the game tied and only 1.6 seconds left.

With the Storm in the bonus, Toliver's foul led to Bird calmly stepping to the line and knocking down the game-winning free throws to help the Storm escape with the win.

"The play was designed for me to come off, and when I did they came and I kicked to Tanisha (Wright)," said Bird according to StormBasketball.com. "Luckily the blocked shot ended up in my hands. They came running at me so hard I just pump faked and took the hit.".

Toliver was sprinting out at full speed to meet Bird who was coming the left side of the 3-point arc with the ball. Toliver came out with her arms up to avoid getting called for a foul, but with Bird falling to the ground after making contact the officials were put in a tough predicament.

"I thought we played well defensively," said Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. "We were right there. I don't want to talk about the last play and the foul they called because we shouldn't even be in that position."

Bird finished the game with 12 points on only 2-for-12 shooting, but added a game-high five steals, led the Storm in assists with four and tied for a team-high seven rebounds with Swin Cash. Lauren Jackson led the Storm in scoring with 14 points to go with five rebounds, while still going without an offensive rebound since her return from injury.

"We played them tough," said Sparks forward Candace Parker. "We played well defensively, but it just didn't come out in our favor. I don't have any thoughts about (the foul called on Sue Bird)."

But it was a particularly tough way to lose after Parker came alive late in the fourth quarter to bring the Sparks back from down eight points left in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 19 points in the final six minutes and hit the free throws just over a minute beforehand to tie the game. Parker's inspired performance down the stretch helped the Sparks shoot 53.8 percent in the fourth quarter while the Storm managed only three made shots in the final frame and shot 20 percent.

Although the Sparks both outshot and outrebounded the Storm, poor ball control hurt them throughout the game, particularly in the third quarter when they turned the ball over on about a quarter of their possessions. Meanwhile, winning that turnover battle becomes one of the more subtly encouraging signs for the Storm tonight as they only committed two turnovers in the final period to help them overcome their poor shooting.

Parker finished with a well-rounded performance of game-highs of 14 rebounds and five blocks as well as two assists and two steals, showing that she can absolutely take over a game when she wants to. 

The Sparks' improved fourth quarter performance only adds to the drama of their game on Tuesday night, when the Storm travel to Los Angeles for a rematch at Staples Center that is likely to be equally hard fought as both teams look forward to the playoffs.

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