Without 11-time WNBA All-Star Sue Bird, who sat out Saturday to rest, Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg put the offense in the hands of Jordin Canada and for a while the lightning-quick backup point guard had the offense operating at peak efficiency.

The Storm built an early 17-point lead, but nearly gave it all away in the final minutes before holding off the Los Angeles Sparks for a gritty 81-75 win at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Ahead by four points with 2:05 remaining, the Storm allowed two just points the rest of the way to bounce back from an embarrassing defeat two days earlier.

“We had a bad game in the last game, so we knew it was going to be important to come in here and play at our pace,” said Canada, who tallied
16 points, four rebounds and three assists in her first start of the season while subbing for Bird. “When we’re playing at our pace, moving the ball and taking great shots, that’s when we’re at our best.

“L.A.is a great team, so we knew we had to punch first and punch often.”

The Storm (3-1) moved into a four-way tie for first place in the league standings.

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Jewell Loyd got things going while scoring 11 of her 16 points in the first period as the Storm led 17-4 at the start and was ahead 19-10 after the first period.

Breanna Stewart, who finished with season-high 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals, took over in the middle of the game when the Storm led 45-29 at halftime and surged ahead 64-47 late in the third period.

The bench is normally a resource for the Storm, but the reserves faltered late in the third while Los Angeles trimmed its deficit to 65-55 at the end of the period.

Behind Seimone Augustus’ perimeter shooting, the Sparks continued to rally and trimmed Seattle’s lead to three points (66-63) with 6:43 remaining.

Canada answered with four consecutive points before Loyd’s three-pointer put the Storm up 73-65 with 4:18 left.

Los Angeles didn’t go away quietly.

The Sparks made one last run and forced Canada into a pair of costly turnovers to pull within 77-73.

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Canada made amends of the miscues with two free throws and rookie Ezi Magbegor, who scored a career-high 12 points, canned a pair at the line in the final seconds to seal the win.

“You’re going to have some games that are grind-out games like this that aren’t pretty. Sometimes you’ve got to dig in and get those stops,” Kloppenburg said. “I think we’re still a work in progress offensively. I don’t feel we’re anywhere near where we want to be.”

The Storm made strides defensively after allowing 91 points in its previous outing.

Los Angeles (2-2), which received a team-high 19 points and 12 points from Candace Parker, shot 38.7% from the field.

“You get these games in our league,” Kloppenburg said. “It’s a tough, physical league. Sometimes you don’t get your run-outs or your fast breaks and you don’t get a high-tempo game.

“You get more of a grind-out, half-court game. So we’ve got to be able to play and execute on the offensive end and dig in and get stops. In that regard it was good. It gives us some confidence to know that we have a tough team and we can dig in and get some stops in crucial times to win a game when we’re struggling on offense.”