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BASKETBALL

Sparks lose series opener to Mercury, 103-94

L.A. will have to win next two games in Phoenix to reach WNBA finals.

September 24, 2009|Mark Medina

After the final buzzer sounded, Sparks forward Candace Parker untucked her jersey in frustration.

She had seen the Sparks fluctuate between two phases: allowing Phoenix to dictate its fastbreak system before the Sparks fought to chip away the deficit. The end result -- a 103-94 Game 1 loss Wednesday to the Mercury in the Western Conference finals in front of 6,389 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion -- was a reflection of what Parker described as "allowing them to play their game."

It also resembled a broader theme, one she and other teammates noticed throughout the season when the Sparks sputtered to an 8-13 record despite boasting five Olympians.

"Our team does things the hard way," said Parker, who led the Sparks with 28 points and 10 rebounds. "This really does not surprise me."

The Sparks trailed, 95-93, with 57.5 seconds left after Lisa Leslie scored two of her 19 points, but Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who had 28 points, clinched the victory by making five of six free throws.

It was one of many examples that showed Phoenix's ability to stave off any Sparks rally.

After the Sparks opened with a 9-8 lead by controlling possession and the boards, the Mercury stormed to a 12-0 run en route to a 19-8 lead with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter.

Though the Sparks answered with a 9-0 run, the Mercury ended the quarter with a 26-19 lead with the same characteristics that defined itself as the league's most explosive team. Phoenix shot 58.8%, including four for seven from three-point range, scored seven points in transition and forced the Sparks into four turnovers.

And the Mercury never slowed down, taking a 53-46 halftime lead.

"We lost a golden chance," Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. "It was our decision making through the course of the game."

The Sparks allowed the Mercury to make 14 of 30 three-point attempts, score 14 fastbreak points and five players to score in double figures. Sparks guard Noelle Quinn scored eight points but committed five of the team's 13 turnovers.

"We can tell you what they run and they can tell you what we run," Taurasi said. "Now it's all about the battle of the wills and who wants to go that extra inch."

And with the Sparks facing elimination in Game 2 at Phoenix on Friday, they no longer have the luxury to make things difficult for themselves.

"We would make a silly turnover, take an ill-advised three-point shot or they'd come back in transition and make a layup," Parker said. "The game was right there."

mark.medina@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesmedina

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