Parker leads Sparks to win over Mercury

AL BRAVO (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- Using speed and opportunistic defense, the Los Angeles Sparks continued their winning ways.

Candace Parker had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists to lead the Los Angeles Sparks to their fifth straight win, an 88-76 victory Sunday over the Phoenix Mercury.

''We played aggressive, we didn't lay down in the second half,'' Parker said. ''I think we were able to get up and make things difficult for them on the offensive end and we outrebounded them (37-27).''

Nneka Ogwumike added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Sparks, who have beaten their last five opponents by an average of 18.6 points a game after a 5-4 start.

''Any time you go on the road and beat a good team, that's a good day's work,'' said Sparks coach Carol Ross. ''I really love how we won this because we didn't play great in all aspects but we were grinders and we stayed focused.''

Phoenix (8-7) played its second straight game without No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner, who has a sore left knee injured June 6 against Minnesota.

''We tried to get some pacing and run in there but they were scoring,'' Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said in explaining his strategy without his big rookie who is among the league leaders with 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. ''So they were trying to go inside on us and we doubled and (Lindsey) Harding is a smart point guard and instead of shooting jump shots, she drove into the paint.''

Harding added 15 points and five assists for the Sparks (10-4), the top scoring and best shooting team in the league, whose transition game led to 21 fast-break points on Sunday.

''That's what we want to do, we want to get out in transition, we want to run, rebound the basketball and quick outlet,'' Parker said. ''I think we did a good job of that.''

Between the posts and guards driving, Los Angeles outscored Phoenix 46-36 in the lane.

Los Angeles took control early with a 13-point run in the first quarter and then held off Phoenix rallies in the second and third quarters.

Diana Taurasi had 23 points, including three 3-pointers, to lead the Mercury, who have lost three straight after winning five in a row. DeWanna Bonner added 17 points and four rebounds for Phoenix.

''Not executing on offense,'' Taurasi said. ''We get positions where we take bad shots and that gives them a good opportunity to run. They do a better job of that. We fought for 40 minutes, it just wasn't our day.''

Ogwumike scored four points in a seven-point spurt midway through the third quarter that gave Los Angeles separation. The team had traded baskets to start the period but Ogwumike's layup made it 60-47.

''We did a good job of maintaining the aggression, finishing strong and doing our best on defense,'' Ogwumike said.

Parker scored 14 first-half points to lead the Sparks to a 43-37 advantage at the break.

Los Angeles overcame a shaky stretch of missing 6-of-8 free throws over the final three and a-half minutes of the third quarter, holding a 68-59 lead going into the final period.

''We were talking about it in the huddles,'' Ogwumike said. ''Today was just one of those days that everybody was missing and when that happens you have to make up for it on the defensive end because those are free baskets.''

The Sparks rebounded from slow start to run off 13 straight points over a three and a-half minute stretch of the first quarter while keeping Phoenix off the board for nearly six minutes. Kristi Tolliver found Parker open for a layup to give Los Angeles a 15-7 lead with four minutes left.

Taurasi quickly picked up two fouls in the first 3:10 of the game and Phoenix missed 11 of its first 14 shots, trailing 20-13 after the first quarter.

The Mercury beat the Sparks 97-81 on June 14.

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