Mercury rally, take down Sparks in Game 1
LOS ANGELES (AP) — All the adjustments in the world by the trailing team won’t always change the outcome of a game.
“Sometimes it just comes down to making shots,” former WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi said. “The first half I didn’t make them. The second half I did.”
Taurasi scored 14 of her 30 points in the third quarter to help the Phoenix Mercury rally for an 86-75 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday night in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series. She was 11 of 13 from the free throw line.
“We’re just not making her uncomfortable enough,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “With her, you have to be able to change things because she’s very smart.”
Candice Dupree added 16 points and DeWanna Bonner had 13 for the Mercury, who snapped the Sparks’ six-game home winning streak. Phoenix has dealt the Sparks two of their three losses at Staples Center this season.
Newly crowned WNBA MVP Candace Parker led the Sparks with 28 points, and Lindsey Harding added 16. Nneka Ogwumike had 14 rebounds. The Sparks were 15-2 at home during the regular season, tied for the best mark in the league.
“It’s a collective effort and we just didn’t play as smart as we did in the first half,” Ogwumike said.
Parker called her teammates into a huddle at midcourt after the final buzzer.
“She just said we’ve got to respond like champions because we know the caliber of play that we can play at,” Ogwumike said. “It’s something that we’ve been talking about all season, that we just have to fight back.”
Game 2 in the best-of-3 series is Saturday at Phoenix.
The Mercury were outrebounded 39-27, but they hounded the Sparks into 16 turnovers. Phoenix rookie Brittney Griner got in early foul trouble, but stuck around and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and five fouls.
“It was frustrating because I would come in, not do good, get a foul, come out. I just have to adjust to how the officiating is going,” she said.
Playing in her first postseason game in front of the announced crowd of 8,500, Griner said, “I expected more people in the seats, but I guess people are busy on Thursdays in L.A.”
Phoenix pulled away to the game’s first double-digit lead in the fourth, helped by six straight points from Dupree. Griner’s basket made it 79-69 with less than 2 minutes to go.
The Mercury rallied in the third, turning a five-point deficit into a 65-60 lead going into the fourth. Taurasi scored nine points in Phoenix’s 18-10 run that gave the Mercury their first lead since the first period.
“They came out in the third quarter and really put it on us,” Parker said. “We knew they were going to shut down our driving lanes and try to make us shoot from outside. I have to put my teammates in a better position to score.”
Kristi Toliver, who averages 14 points, missed her first 10 shots for the Sparks and finished with two points. Ogwumike was held to eight points.
“Not the way I want to start, but it won’t be the way I finish,” Toliver said. “That’s all I’ve really got to focus on — just staying confident with it, just keep shooting it and move on to the next one. `’
The Sparks owned a 23-10 rebounding edge in the first half, when they led 43-38.
Parker scored 12 of her 16 points in the opening quarter, while Griner picked up two early fouls.
The series is a rematch of the 2009 conference finals when Phoenix swept the Sparks on its way to the team’s second WNBA title.
Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher spoke to the Sparks before the game, telling them to keep their focus on the team.
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., who won a big fight in Las Vegas last weekend, attended the game.