Taurasi helps Mercury rally past Sparks, 74-69
LOS ANGELES (AP) With Magic Johnson sitting along the baseline, the Los Angeles Sparks were eager to make a positive first impression on their new owner.
Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury ruined that plan.
Taurasi scored 23 points, including the go-ahead runner in the final minute, and the Mercury defeated the Sparks 74-69 Sunday night to spoil their home opener.
Taurasi added six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Her one-handed runner along the baseline with 32.7 seconds remaining was the last of 18 lead changes in the game and was the pivotal moment of a 13-3 Mercury run over the final 2 1/2 minutes.
”Those last two minutes are always tricky, they can go either way,” said Taurasi, who hails from nearby Chino. ”They just missed a couple shots and we made a couple shots. The game was in the balance; we got a little luckier today.”
DeWanna Bonner had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Brittney Griner added 13 points and 10 rebounds and Candice Dupree added 18 points for Phoenix (2-0).
”We just took it a possession at a time,” Griner said. ”They had a lead and we knew we just needed to chip away at it – get a stop, get a score, and across the board we did that.”
Candace Parker had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Alana Beard scored 16 points for Los Angeles, which was playing its first home game since a group led by Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter purchased the team in February.
Johnson immediately put his stamp on organization, with the famous ”Showtime” moniker from his Lakers’ days figuring prominently in the Sparks’ intro video and the word ”Magic” adorning team employees’ shirts.
The Sparks weren’t quite able to replicate the ”Showtime” days, as they shot just 31.6 percent (6 of 19) in the fourth quarter to blow a 66-61 lead.
They were also outrebounded 41-32, surrendering 12 offensive boards in the process.
”I’m sure there was some fatigue involved, but we have to fight through that,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. ”Rebounding was the biggest issue. We started the game poorly rebounding, and our energy had nothing to do with that.”
The Sparks fell into a 16-6 hole early in the first quarter but staged a furious rally to take a 30-29 lead at halftime. Parker scored 10 points in the second quarter alone to lead the surge.
The lead changed 11 times in a back-and-forth third quarter, and the Mercury emerged with a 51-50 edge heading into the fourth.
The back-and-forth continued deep into the final quarter, when a Griner putback and free throw gave the Mercury a 68-67 lead with 46 seconds remaining.
Parker drained a pair of free throws to put the Sparks back in the lead, but Taurasi made her one-handed runner to make it 70-69 Mercury and extended it to 72-69 with a pair of free throws.
Kristi Tolliver’s potential game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out with 15 seconds to go, and Bonner iced it with two free throws in the final seconds.
Overall the Mercury shot 18 of 20 from the foul line and made their final seven free throws.
”Those free throws are huge,” Taurasi said. ”You miss those they come back and bite you. Those are the things that if you can really execute, it really helps.”