Phoenix beats LA 103-94 in Game 1Sep 24, 2009 - 5:20 AM By BETH HARRIS AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES(AP) -- Diana Taurasi made herself at home on the road, burying shot after shot against the Los Angeles Sparks and even shaking hands with Magic Johnson in the fourth quarter.
Taurasi scored 28 points before fouling out and the Phoenix Mercury hit 14 3-pointers to win 103-94 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals.
Playing the fourth quarter with five fouls, Taurasi made 5 of her 6 free throws over the final 1:09 to win at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on the court named for coach John Wooden and his wife Nell.
The Sparks were forced out of their downtown home arena because of a Britney Spears concert at Staples Center. Game 2 is Friday night in Phoenix.
"It's Britney, baby," Taurasi said. "Britney's in town and scoot on over."
She is from suburban Chino, but Taurasi's college team Connecticut never played at Pauley during her career there.
"I've come to Pauley since I was 12," she said. "You walk in and see the (championship) banners. It's a pretty special place. It's the Garden of the West Coast."
Penny Taylor added 18 points, including four 3-pointers, Cappie Pondexter 15, Le'coe Willingham 12 and Tangela Smith 11 for Phoenix.
"This team has got amazing people in crunch situations to hit those shots," Taylor said about the treys. "That's what this team is good at. We play with confidence throughout the game."
Candace Parker led the Sparks with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Tina Thompson added 25 points and Lisa Leslie 19.
"We still believe we can take care of business in Phoenix and send Smooth out with a ring," Parker said, referring to Leslie who will retire at season's end.
Johnson, who won NBA titles with Sparks coach Michael Cooper on the Los Angeles Lakers, shook hands with Taurasi as she walked back upcourt.
"How cool was it to have him in the front row?" Taurasi said. "I had posters of him growing up in my room."
The Mercury's 3-pointers eclipsed the nine they made against San Antonio on Saturday in the first round.
Phoenix earned its first-ever playoff victory over the Sparks in the teams' first postseason meeting since the first round in 2000. The Mercury dominated the teams' season series 3-1, losing only the regular season finale on Sept. 13 in a game Taurasi sat out.
"That was a tough-earned win," she said. "There were stretches in the game where they imposed their will on us and we didn't have answers. Every time we made a run, they came back with a run. We got a lot of big shots from a lot of people."
The game was tied twice early in the fourth and the Sparks twice closed within two in the final 1:09. But they were forced to foul and Taurasi and Smith were solid at the line.
"In keeping with this year's theme, we always do things the hard way," Parker said. "Losing this game makes it harder, but not impossible. We would make a silly turnover or take an ill-advised 3-pointer. The game is right there, it's not like we were blown out."
Thompson, Parker and Leslie controlled the Sparks' offense in the third quarter, when they outscored the Mercury 22-19.
Phoenix extended its lead to 69-61 late in the third on five straight points by Taylor.
Thompson was in the midst of her own 8-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer, and Noelle Quinn hit two free throws to get the Sparks within one. Ketia Swanier hit a 3-pointer to keep the Mercury ahead 72-68 heading into the final 10 minutes.
"As Pat Riley says, 'The playoffs begin when one team wins on another team's floor,"' Cooper said. "We can play against this team. I don't think, I know."
Phoenix led by 10 points early in the second quarter before the Sparks used a 20-10 run to tie the game at 44. Parker had 10 points in the spurt.
But the Mercury regained the lead with a 9-2 run to go into halftime ahead 53-46. Quinn, who played collegiately at UCLA, committed two turnovers and Leslie fouled Taurasi, who completed the three-point play.
"When you let a team like Phoenix get out of our reach, it's kind of hard to play catch up," Betty Lennox said. "They are such a good team to where they keep on pounding it down our throat, pounding it down our throat."
The Mercury raced to a 19-8 lead to start the game, when the Sparks missed seven of their first 10 field goal attempts. They went more than 3 minutes without scoring while Phoenix ran off 12 consecutive points and shot 70 percent from the floor.
The Sparks regrouped and closed the quarter on an 11-7 run to trail 26-19.
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