Sparks hold off Mercury, force decisive Game 3

Sparks hold on to beat Taurasi, Mercury 82-73, force decisive Game 3 in West semifinals.

PHOENIX -- In addition to dominating the majority of the action, Candance Parker provided the most game-defining point of the post-game interview parade.

“We moved on to the next play,” said Parker, the WNBA’s recently crowned MVP.

For Parker and her Los Angeles Sparks teammates, the ability to ignore anything bad that just occurred and focus on subsequent activities may enable them to advance to the Western Conference finals.

But there’s always a caveat.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Parker said after doing quite a bit (31 points, 11 rebounds) to help the Sparks stay alive with an 82-73 victory over the Mercury at US Airways Center in Game 2 of this blink-and-it’s over best-of-three series. “We won one game. That’s great, but it won’t get us into the second round.”

No, but a win Monday night in Los Angeles can do that.

It should be pointed out that Parker’s “haven’t done anything yet” reminder is an echo of what we heard from Mercury superstar Diana Taurasi after “D” gunned Phoenix to Thursday’s Game 1 triumph in L.A.

Unfortunately for Taurasi and her on-court cronies, an inability to move on to the next play seemed to make beating the second-seeded Sparks even more difficult than it already is.

The distraction we’re referencing was an officiating crew that didn’t exactly turn in a Springfield-caliber effort, but that deserves only a little credit for the Mercury’s inability to duplicate the Game 1 performance.

Reactions to how the game was being called, however, really seemed to mitigate a laser focus the Mercury brought to Game 1. And with attention to detail becoming even more important in the playoffs, that’s difficult to overcome.

That’s especially true when the opponent is ramping up its efforts just to survive.

“They played a little bit more desperate than we did,” Mercury coach Russ Pennell said of the Sparks, who refused to be closed out in two.

A look at the numbers reveals a physical game between closely matched teams. Committed defense from each side resulted in field-goal percentages in the low 40s and an almost-even rebounding result.

The difference was in the finer points that can be traced to the pesky variable of focus.

With foul issues for Taurasi and Candace Dupree (each had three in the first half) helping to escort Mercury emotions to the point of distraction, Phoenix trailed by 14 at intermission.

Of the 44 points the Mercury surrendered by then, 26 arrived on second-chance opportunities. Phoenix, which also had 12 turnovers by then, now had a predicament of catching up against a really good Los Angeles team that recaptured a lot of its considerable mojo.

“We got in a big hole in the second half,” Taurasi said after missing 13 of 19 shots from the field in a 20-point night. That hole twice reached a depth of 15 points in the fourth quarter. “We knew they (Sparks) were going to come out here desperate and put it all in the bank tonight. They did that, and they deserved to win the game.”

And then, in splendid Taurasi fashion, she attempted to distill the evening’s outcome into a simple reality.

“Every night’s different,” the Mercury guard said. “That’s why everyone loves sports: You never know what you’re going to get.”

Now that the crucial Forrest Gump philosophy is on the table, we also can throw in a technical explanation for why Phoenix shot 40 percent from the field. Right, this explanation goes beyond the obvious crooked shooting. Movement of the ball and players was pretty weak.

“I thought the ball wound up in one person’s hands too long,” Pennell said when asked if the ball was sticking. “The shot clock is so short that if you hang on to it too long, you’re going to wind up taking a marginal shot.

“And I think tonight, we took a lot of marginal shots, and we need to get that corrected before Monday.”

All things strategic and emotional considered, Monday's game should be a beauty.

“These are two pretty evenly matched teams,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “It’s like two ol’ heavyweight prize fighters just slugging it out and looking for any weakness on every possession. Sometimes there’s not a lot of them. You just have to keep punching until you find something.”