LOS ANGELES-Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks got off to a hot start in the first half of the team’s WNBA Western Conference playoff semifinal game against the Phoenix Mercury.
Diana Taurasi and her teammates ended the contest hotter than a 4th of July barbecue. Taurasi scored 20 of her game-high 30 points in the final two quarters to lift Phoenix to a stunning 86-75 win at Staples Center.
“In the second half we made some simple adjustments and that helped us get back in the game,” Taurasi said. “Sometimes it just comes down to making shots.”
This was supposed to be Parker’s night. Parker was named the WNBA Most Valuable Player for the second time in her career before the game, so the Sparks were riding a crest wave of emotion in the first half, where they outscored Phoenix 43-38.
The first quarter was particularly good for Parker.
With the Staples Center crowd loudly cheering her every move, Parker came out red-hot in the first quarter, scoring 12 of her team-high 28 points to stake the Sparks a 26-20 lead. Parker was virtually unstoppable at one point during the first period, scoring nine straight points.
Behind the scintillating start of Parker, it looked as though the Sparks would dispatch the Mercury without any kind of a a hiccup. Taurasi and her friends had better ideas.
Behind Taurasi’s 14 points in the third quarter and Candace Dupree’s eight points in the fourth, Phoenix dominated the last two periods, outscoring the Sparks 46-32 to take a 1-0 lead first round advantage. The onus is now on the Sparks to come up with a win in Phoenix or be eliminated from the rest of the playoffs. Sparks coach Carol Ross said the team have to find a way to better contain Taurasi.
“We’re not making her uncomfortable enough,” Ross said after the game.
Despite outrebounding Phoenix by a decidedly 39-27 margin, the Sparks shot 41 percent from the field and produced just 12 assists in the games, compared to the Mercury’s dime total of 20. Another glaring statistic that jumps off the page is shooting guard Kristi Toliver scoring just two points in the game.
Toliver, normally one of the best outside shooters in the WNBA, couldn’t hit the side of a barn on the night, going 1-13 from the field. In an emphatic statement, Parker said the Sparks had much bigger issues than Toliver’s unexpected cold shooting.
There was too much standing around and not enough movement, Parker stated. With point guard Lindsey Harding (16 points, five assists) being the only other Los Angeles player to score in double figures, the Sparks’ offensive output reflects what Parker said.
” I just think we need to step up,” Parker said. “We have to step up and figure out what’s going on individually and corporately. We have to figure out ways to not be as stagnant offensively. I think it was a lot of just walking, and that’s a problem. You can’t just walk because then when the ball goes up you’re still standing. We’ve got to take care of the ball better and defensively, there were plays that we needed to make and couldn’t them make down the stretch. Those plays hurt us later on.”