LOS ANGELES — Midway through the first quarter, Maya Moore was looking in her teammates’ eyes, searching for clues as to how the game would go.
She could see their passion and resolve.
“I knew we were going to fight,” she said.
Moore scored 31 points and Minnesota’s defense held Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker in check to help the Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 85-79 on Sunday night and force a decisive fifth game in the WNBA Finals.
“Every possession was so crucial and we just made more of them,” Moore said.
Lindsay Whalen added 13 points, Seimone Augustus had 12 and Sylvia Fowles had 10 points and 13 rebounds in tying the series 2-2 and sending it back to Minneapolis, where the Lynx will try to win their record-tying fourth championship on Thursday.
“This is what a Finals game should look like,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Both teams leaving it all on the floor.”
Ogwumike, the league MVP, scored 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting, while two-time MVP Parker scored 14 points and made 6 of 7 free throws for the Sparks, who were trying to close out their first title since 2002 in front of their fans at Staples Center.
Chelsea Gray led the Sparks with 20 points off the bench. She was 6 of 11 and made all four of her free throws.
The Sparks outscored the Lynx 10-4 to open the fourth, tying it at 69-all on Parker’s driving bank shot as she fell out of bounds. Los Angeles got most of its points at the free throw line, going 6 of 9 in that span.
Whalen scored two straight baskets to put the Lynx back in front 73-69 on turnovers by Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver, who finished with 15 points.
“We’ll replay this game in our minds and know we have to play with a little bit more poise down the stretch,” Toliver said. “Be more decisive.”
Trailing 77-72, Gray hit her fourth 3-pointer to draw the Sparks within two.
“We were trying, we were making things happen down the stretch,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “It’s just the ability to play with poise down the stretch.”
The teams traded baskets and Minnesota led 79-77. Parker was called for a shooting foul on Rebekkah Brunson, who made both free throws for an 81-77 lead. Before Parker fouled Brunson, it appeared that Minnesota hadn’t gotten the ball across halfcourt in time to avoid an 8-second violation. Replays suggested the ball was still in the backcourt when the shot clock was at 16.
“I think they forgot they had to get the ball over the line,” Toliver said. “But that’s life. We can’t leave it up to the officials to determine a series. We have to go take it.”
With 42 seconds left, Whalen lost the ball to Ogwumike. At the Sparks’ end, Brunson stole it from Parker, who ended up getting whistled for the foul.
“I had it at one point and after that I didn’t see what happened because I think I was on the floor,” Whalen said. “It was kind of a wild play.”
Moore stole an inbounds pass and Ogwumike fouled her with 4 seconds left. Moore made both to close out the win, missing just one of her 12 free throw attempts.
“We fought today,” Ogwumike said. “When it comes to focus and awareness, we can sharpen up there. We’re going to fight again.”
The Lynx scored six in a row to take their largest lead, 52-42, early in the third, which ended in a 3-point contest. The Sparks made three, including two by Gray, and Moore hit two 3s for the Lynx, who led 65-59 going into the fourth. Moore scored 10 points in the third.
Minnesota dominated the Sparks 22-4 in fastbreak points and controlled the boards, 41-25.
Janel McCarville missed her second straight game with a back injury, leaving the Lynx without her 6-foot-2 post presence.
Brunson, who guarded Parker much of the time, finished with six points and five fouls. Fowles had four fouls.
KOBE & THE GIRLS
A bearded Kobe Bryant returned to the scene of some of his greatest career moments, watching courtside with wife Vanessa and their two daughters. Also on hand was Sparks co-owner Magic Johnson, who returned from Chicago where the Dodgers were playing the Cubs in the National League Championship Series at the same time. Lakers guard Lou Williams, Cedric the Entertainer and Marsai Martin of “black-ish” attended.
Game 5 is Thursday in Minnesota.