Showing why she was named MVP of the WNBA, Candace Parker scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to guide the Los Angeles Sparks to a 82-73 win at the Phoenix Mercury in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The best-of-three series in now knotted at one, heading into the determining Game Three at 7 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles on ESPN2.
“These are two heavyweight fighters slugging it out,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “They’re looking for any weakness on every possession. You need to keep punching until you find something. We’re glad we were able to extend it.”
Sparks All-Star guard Kristi Toliver surpassed her points total from Game One in the first minute, converting a three-point play. The Mercury led 11-9, its last of the game, as Nneka Ogwumike and Parker heated up.
The second quarter was when Parker really came to life, scoring seven in the first two and a half minutes, as the Sparks opened on an 11-3 run, halted on a Penny Taylor three. The lead swelled to 44-30 at halftime and Parker already had 19 and seven.
After struggling through the first two periods, Diana Taurasi scored 11 in the third, but the Mercury could not close the gap, coming as close as five with 23 seconds left.
“I felt they had a little more energy early on, played more desperately than we did,” Mercury coach Russ Pennell said. “That was one of my big concerns coming into this game. When you win a big game on the road, even at this level, people’s natural tendency is maybe to have a little bit of complacency.”
Coach Pennell mentioned that the three keys he uses to winning a game are rebounding, turnovers and shooting percentage, and he usually needs two of those to win, but Saturday the Mercury lost all three categories.
Taurasi, who equaled a career playoff high in Game One with 30 points, scored 20- her regular season average - and had a game-high five assists.
“We’ve played each other five times now,” Taurasi said. “It’s whichever team is more focused and in it for longer stretches of the game, and today we didn’t get enough.”
In her home playoff debut, Brittney Griner scored 18, including 10 in the second, with six rebounds and three blocks.
“We knew that Brittney was going to be a tough matchup for us,” Parker said. “She’s 6-foot-8, athletic and can run the floor, we tried to play as far away from the basket as we can, and on the defensive end, we do the same thing, try to get her out of the paint.”
Candice Dupree also had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Mercury, and Ogwumike finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Sparks. The former Duke players, Lindsey Harding (13 points) and Alana Beard (12 points and nine boards) were instrumental for the Sparks, as well.
The Taylor three that broke the Sparks run in the second quarter, which actually was overturned from a two, was the lone long-distance basket in the game, as the Sparks ended 0-for-7 and are now 0-for-21 in the series.
“We’re a tough team, we like to go down inside,” Ross said.
Los Angeles led the WNBA in perimeter defense during the regular season, and Saturday, it held the Mercury to 1-of-14 and Taurasi to 0-of-6.
“They have athletic guards who get into you,” Taurasi said.
In the other game Saturday, the Atlanta Dream evened its series with the Washington Mystics, winning on the road, 63-45, and taking the rebounding battle, 53-30. Angel McCoughtry, the league’s scoring leader, had 20 points. The deciding game between the Mystics and Dream from Atlanta will be at 5 p.m. Monday on NBATV.