LA Sparks win playoff opener against Mercury – Daily News

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After a dogfight in the first half, the No. 2-seeded Sparks pulled away from the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury, and the defending WNBA champions won their playoff opener and the first game of their semifinal series Tuesday. The Sparks defense helped them stifle Phoenix in the second half of a 79-66 victory.

It was a tight first half between the Sparks and Mercury as the teams battled to a 42-42 tie at the break. The Sparks won all three of the teams’ regular-season series by an average of 16 points but the Mercury came in ready to play off short rest from Sunday’s quarterfinals.

The Mercury opened up a 17-9 lead and the Sparks didn’t take their first lead until there was less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Brittney Griner battled with Nneke Ogwumike and Candace Parker down low and got the better of them in the first 20 minutes.

Griner went to the locker room having scored 14 points on seven shots, while Parker and Ogwumike had three fouls apiece.

While struggling to slow the Mercury down defensively, the Sparks also took time to get into an offensive rhythm, starting 0-for-5 from 3-point range. The home team didn’t end up taking their first lead until Parker hit her first shot from distance with 1:51 left in the half, which put Los Angeles up 36-34.

The defending champion asserted itself in the third quarter, winning the frame 14-6, allowing just two field goals, both of them by Griner. The Sparks opened on a 6-0 run, scoring on their first three possessions; on their first two defensive possessions, they forced a Mercury airball and a traveling violation by Griner.

The Mercury’s first made field goal in the third quarter didn’t come until there was just 5:10 remaining, and the Sparks forced four turnovers, two of which led to easy layups.

The Sparks drew Griner’s fourth and fifth fouls in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, then Griner’s elbow to the ribs of Ogwumike sent her off the court for the night with 4:44 left in the game. By that time the Sparks had built a 69-58 lead, and held on for the win.

Alana Beard celebrated the news that she’d been named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year by putting on a clinic against the league’s all-time leading scorer, Diana Taurasi. Beard held Taurasi to just four points on 1-for-8 shooting through the third quarter, smothering her on and off the ball.

The Sparks were led by Ogwumike (19 points and nine rebounds), Parker (15 points), and Beard (11 points). All five Sparks starters scored in double digits as Odyssey Sims had 12 points and Chelsea Gray had 13. The Mercury were led by Griner (18 points) and Leilani Mitchell (19 points).

The Sparks (27-8) and Mercury (18-17) will meet for the second game of the series on Thursday at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid at 7 p.m.

 



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