Winning Time

Kristi Toliver often zooms around the key, toying with her defender and planning her attack. Pull-up midrange? Corner three? Crossover then deep step-back? 10…9…8…7…It’s Toliver’s favorite time of the day.

“Certain people used to joke that I used to try to put myself in those moments as far as not scoring at certain times, so I could have those opportunities,” Toliver says, smiling, before her Sparks faced the Sky earlier this summer.

“The players I’ve watched growing up and the guys I’ve admired so much, they made those kind of shots,” says the 29-year-old PG. “I wanted to be like that, too.”

That’s why the eighth-year pro, who is draining a career-best 45 percent of her threes to go with 14 ppg through the first month of the season, chose Reggie Miller as the subject of her fourth-grade English report.

Like Miller, she wasn’t the most athletic. She wasn’t always sought after. But when the shot clock wound down, she craved the ball.

She’d practice Miller’s push-off, game-winning three over Jordan in the ’98 Eastern Conference finals, memorizing his footwork the way other kids memorized lyrics.

It’s no surprise Toliver earned the rep of Ms. Clutch. As a freshman back at Maryland, she hit the game-tying three to force OT against Duke in the ’06 National Championship game.

Last season, she once poured in a Sparks’ record 43 points—including a 19-point third-quarter outburst—to lead L.A. past the Shock, 98-95.

“I’m not afraid to miss shots and miss those kind of moments,” Toliver says. “I live for those moments. It’s why I play.”

Posting 3.8 dimes and 2.6 boards to go with her scoring this year, Toliver has guided L.A. to a WNBA-best 21-3 record. Alongside budding superstar Nneka Ogwumike and veteran Candace Parker, Toliver is hungry to bring L.A. its first WNBA crown since ’02.

“We’re a veteran-based group,” she says. “We have all the pieces to do something special.”

Photo via Getty Images