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WNBA PLAYOFFS

Sparks defeat Mercury to force deciding game for conference title

Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie combine for 31 first-half points to beat the Mercury, forcing Game 3 in Phoenix on Saturday.

September 26, 2009|Associated Press

PHOENIX — Candace Parker had 24 points and 18 rebounds, Lisa Leslie scored 20 points, and the Sparks forced a deciding third game of the Western Conference finals with an 87-76 victory against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night.

Leslie and Parker combined for 31 first-half points as the third-seeded Sparks ran out to an early lead and had a 49-34 advantage by halftime. Phoenix pulled to within nine in the second half after Leslie picked up her fifth foul with 6:23 left in the third.

The Mercury cut the deficit to 75-67 with 3:59 left but got no closer.

Diana Taurasi had 25 points before fouling out in the final minute, while fellow all-WNBA first-teamer Cappie Pondexter had 19 to lead Phoenix.

Game 3 is tonight in Phoenix.

The Mercury, which had the best regular-season record in WNBA at 23-11, beat Los Angeles, 103-94, in Wednesday's series opener at Pauley Pavilion.

Phoenix, the best shooting team in the league, made only 27 of 68 shots (40%) from the field and seven of 20 (35%) from beyond the arc.

Betty Lennox scored 17 points and Tina Thompson had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Sparks, who shot 42% from the field (31 for 74) and outrebounded the Mercury, 43-28.

Phoenix was held well under the 100 points a game they averaged in their first four playoff games.

Tangela Smith made two jumpers to cut the lead to 56-47 with 4:37 left in the third after Leslie got three fouls in a 2:22 span, forcing her to the bench for the rest of the period.

The Sparks slowed down the Mercury's running game at the outset, jumping to a 15-4 lead in the first five minutes.

Los Angeles made 12 of 25 from the field in the first quarter while Phoenix missed seven of its first 10 shots and were outrebounded 13-2, trailing 31-17 after the first 10 minutes.

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Western finals

SPARKS VS. PHOENIX

GAME 1

Phoenix 103, Sparks 94

GAME 2

Sparks 87, Phoenix 76

GAME 3

Tonight at Phoenix, 7

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