Los Angeles, Calif. – The Phoenix Mercury used zone defense and stifling offense to beat the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday night, 90-84, for their first home loss in over a year.
Diana Taurasi lead four Mercury players in double figures with 32 points and seven assists, while DeWanna Bonner added 17. Candace Parker headed up the Sparks’ efforts with 25 points and 16 rebounds, and teammate Kristi Toliver put up 16 points.
Los Angeles outrebounded their opponents, 46-37, and Phoenix was without star center Brittney Griner for the third consecutive game. But the visitors outscored their opponents in the paint, 50-38, out shot them, and maintained the lead throughout the game after overcoming a slow first quarter.
“We started the game so lousy that there was no other way but to get a little bit better,” Taurasi said. “We stayed close in the first quarter, which was key and then the second quarter we did a good job defensively of getting in the way, getting rebounds and then we were able to go. ”
The Sparks reeled off the first ten points of the game, and lead 23-16 at the end of the first quarter. Taurasi ignited for 10 points in the second period, pacing her team to out score Los Angeles, 30-15, and take the lead at the half.
The Mercury inflated their lead to as much as 15 in the third quarter, by forcing the Sparks to take outside shots and clamping down on defense. Parker spearheaded a Los Angeles run in the last period, which closed the gap to one with 5:48 to play. But two Penny Taylor buckets gave Phoenix a cushion, and numerous fouls in the final minutes slowed the pace of the game, and the Mercury kept their lead.
Forty-three fouls were called in the game, which also featured technical fouls on Taurasi and Toliver, and some heated words between Taurasi and Sparks guard Alana Beard in the second quarter, after a hard foul.
Mercury forward Candice Dupree said the highly-charged crowd contributed to a playoff-like atmostphere.
“We knew that in order to win the game we were going to have to be physical,” Dupree said. “The game was extremely physical, I think on both sides of the court, and I think some of our losses against LA, Minnesota, teams have just beat the crap out of us. Tonight, we didn’t back down. We came out with the win.”
The Sparks last lost a regular-season home game on June 24, 2012. Coach Carol Ross gave credit to the Mercury.
“Phoenix was the better team tonight,” she said. “Taurasi was a handful again, and we just didn’t do enough things to slow them down and get them out of rhythm.”
“I don’t think it was our defense as much as Phoenix’s offense. They were really good. When Taurasi is able to do her thing, it ignites and fuels the rest of the team. We did not do a good enough job really early of setting a tone with her, and we ended up in a foul fest at the end.”
Mercury coach Corey Gaines said his team went to zone defense for the match up.
“We went back to our really really old style of playing zone, and it just makes us run better. It makes our defense look better,” he said.
Parker said the zone effected the Sparks.
“It was evident that their zone really made us slow down and made us get back on our heels,” she said. “We weren’t able to run as much, which we did later on in the second half, so I think we kind of figured out their zone later on, but it came at a hard stretch in the game.”
Gaines acknowledged that being without Griner is tough. But he said it was good to have Taylor back from a year-long rehabilitation from injury, even though she can only play four minutes per quarter right now.
“It’s tough – I’ve got to manage it just right so I can get her in the game at just the right time,” Gaines said. “She’s strong, she’s ready to go. But I’ve got to go on doctor’s orders.”
Phoenix now leads the season series between the two teams, 2-1.