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Lynx hold off Sparks in clash of WNBA titans

ST. PAUL -- Renee Montgomery picked the right time to break out of a long-distance shooting slump.

She scored a season-high 20 points off the bench, including four three-pointers, as the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 88-77 Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center in a battle of the top two teams in the WNBA.

Sylvia Fowles scored 20 points and had 13 rebounds for the Lynx (13-1), who won their fourth straight. Seimone Augustus had 16 points.

Nneka Ogwumike led Los Angeles (12-4) with 27 points and 14 rebounds. The Sparks lost for the first time in nine games. Chelsea Gray had 16 points. Candace Parker had just two points, 15 below her average.

A 34.2 percent career shooter from beyond the arc, Montgomery was 9-for-36 this season entering the game. She finished 4 for 5.

“I would hope that the percentages would play out,” said Montgomery, who hadn’t scored 20 points in a game in nearly five years. “I missed a lot in the beginning of the season so me, because I’m a shooter, would think that a certain point they’re going to start to go in.”

Minnesota’s bench outscored Los Angeles 33-19. Plenette Pierson had nine points and Jia Perkins four.

“They were the difference maker,” said Sylvia Fowles.

The Lynx center played a key role, too, scoring 20 points and adding 13 rebounds despite often being double- or triple-teamed.

“I think she made a statement today,” said coach Cheryl Reeve.

The Western Conference Player of the Month in May and June scored on a putback to give the Lynx an 81-74 lead with 4:02 to go and provided a brief sense of relief to most of the 9,821 in attendance.

However, she picked up her fifth foul with 2:37 left.

Fowles blocked a layup by Essence Carson 34 seconds later, but Ogwumike scored on a putback against a cautious Fowles to get the Sparks within five with 1:35 remaining.

After a time out, Fowles converted a feed from Rebekkah Brunson to make it 84-77; Brunson scored on a putback and Montgomery added two late free throws to clinch the victory.

Montgomery’s fourth basket from outside the arc, at the buzzer, gave the Lynx a 68-61 lead going into the fourth quarter. Los Angeles, which trailed by 19 midway through the second quarter, had gotten within four 16 seconds earlier.

Minnesota entered the night making 37.7 percent of its three-point shots. It finished 6 for 14.

“When I go to the gym and nobody’s there and I’m just getting shots up, you’re getting shots up for those moments,” Montgomery said. “You’re putting up shots and putting up for extra work for the big games where every point matters.”