Candace Parker understood what was happening.
Words weren't needed to explain a bench visit in the third quarter of a playoff game. The Sparks star forward has been around long enough to know when a message was being sent, in this case by Coach Carol Ross.
"Coach was upset at me for my lack of rebounding, which she should have been," Parker said.
Parker still had plenty of time to reverse course, starting late in the third quarter and pushing through with a strong final quarter, coming through to help deliver a 93-86 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 1 of the WNBA's Western Conference semifinals Thursday at USC's Galen Center.
Sparks guard Kristi Toliver had 29 points, tying a career high, and Parker finished with 25 points and nine rebounds, hitting seven of eight free throws. She had 10 points in the final quarter, putting the Sparks ahead for good with two free throws with 45.8 seconds left.
"I thought Candace was slow out of the gate," Ross said. "You expect great players to really rise up in the fourth quarter and I thought she really asserted herself midway through the third. She hit great foul shots late in the game, which really gave us the room to ice it.
"She can play better, certainly. But she played big when it mattered most. Again, that's what great players do. Toliver, I thought she was relentless. At times, I thought she settled for some outside shots that were contested, a few too many on-on-one. She regained her equilibrium and started playing more balanced on the offensive end."
Game 2 is on Saturday in San Antonio.
Earlier, Parker finished second in the league MVP race to Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles, receiving seven first-place votes. Parker averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game in the regular season. Toliver was named the league's most improved player.
San Antonio had a 10-point lead with two minutes left in the third but the Sparks ended the quarter with a 9-2 run to get back in contention. They continued the pressure opening the fourth with an 11-4 run.
Guard Becky Hammon led the Silver Stars with 19 points, Adams had 17 and Danielle Robinson added 16.
"They really played through their transition," Adams said. "We were trying to find out who was going to get the ball and who was going to get it back. Kristi and Candace really pushing the transition, that's what hurt us.... We let them get on the run and once they got on that run, they couldn't miss."