By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK — Sabrina Ionescu scored eight of her 20 points in the final 2:18 and the Liberty rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to beat the short-handed Sparks, 64-61, on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center.
The Liberty (13-18) earned two wins over the Sparks (12-19) in the span of 24 hours, sweeping the back-to-back set between teams that are in the thick of the battle for one of the last playoff berths. The Sparks bounced back and gave New York a much tougher time than they did in a 102-73 loss a night earlier.
“We shot awful in the paint, outside the paint, but at end of the day we kept the faith and buckled down on defense,” said Ionescu, who added eight rebounds and six assists. “Got scores when we needed to. It’s really hard to beat a team on a back-to-back. We were able to get two wins which is big for this franchise into this playoff push.”
Coming into Wednesday night’s games, one game separated the seventh through 11th places in the standings. With the win, New York moved into a tie with Phoenix and Atlanta for seventh, while the Sparks fell into a tie for 10th with Minnesota. The top eight teams in the 12-team league make the postseason.
Trailing 50-35 with 5:23 left in the third quarter, New York held the Sparks scoreless for the rest of the period to cut its deficit to five.
The Sparks finally ended their nearly 7-minute scoreless drought and got the lead back up to 55-47 before New York scored 13 of the next 17 points to take its first lead of the game on two free throws by Ionescu with 1:14 left.
After a Sparks miss, Ionescu was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with 34.1 seconds left. She made two of three foul shots to give the Liberty a 62-59 advantage.
Jordin Canada was fouled driving to the basket and made both free throws to get the Sparks back within one with 29.6 left.
After a timeout, Ionescu worked the clock down before driving into the lane and banking in a shot from the free throw line with 6.9 seconds left.
The Sparks had one last chance but Lexie Brown missed a 3-point attempt from the wing just before the buzzer.
Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead the Sparks, who jumped out to a 24-8 lead after the first quarter as Ogwumike scored seven points. She moved past Swin Cash for 20th on the league’s all-time scoring list and now has 5,137 points for her career.
The Sparks used just eight players, and all five starters logged at least 31 minutes (three of them at 34 or more). Brianna Sykes had 12 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots but also had half of the team’s 16 turnovers. Canada had 10 points and eight assists, and rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa had eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
New York, which shot 31.5% for the game (23 for 73), rallied to within seven late in the first half before the Sparks scored the final four points to take an 11-point lead into the break.
Natasha Howard finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for the Liberty.
The Sparks continue their road trip at Atlanta (13-18) on Friday and then face the Washington Mystics (20-12) on Sunday. The Sparks then finish the regular season with three consecutive home games.