It's hard to do this game justice without veering off into the realm of wild hyperbole. Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker looked positively all-world tonight. Like, "Can we put them in the hall of fame tomorrow?" all-world. It was a tug of war between force and finesse, with finesse (and a little help from its friends, depth and tempo) winning out.
If you watched tonight's game 1 between the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks, it might be easy to simply say the Mercury have Diana Taurasi, who else do they need? Taurasi was phenomenal, unloading on the Sparks for 28 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block. And it seemed like every single play was exactly when the Mercury needed it, fending off rally after rally by the Sparks.
However, Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker will tell you exactly what you need besides Diana Taurasi: a supporting cast of players who want to win as badly as they do with the talent to back it up. The tremendous trio combined for 72 of the Sparks' 94 points. The rest of the Sparks? 22 points on an abysmal 9 of 27 from the field.
After a close start to the game that saw the Sparks lead 8-7, the Mercury rattled off 11 straight points for a 19-8 lead and finished the 1st quarter up 26-19 behind strong early play from Cappie Pondexter who led all scorers after the 1st quarter with 9 points.
The Mercury controlled the pace despite the Sparks dominance in the paint. LA crushed Phoenix on the boards 40-26. Phoenix struggled to do anything against LA's frontcourt. There were several stretches where it seemed the only way the Mercury touched the ball under the glass was after an LA make. Giving up 15 offensive rebounds will do that. Candace Parker bulldozed her way to a career playoff high of 28 points and 10 rebounds, giving her her 8th double double in her last 10 games.
This was despite some excellent zone defense by the Mercury, especially early in the game when the Sparks' guards struggled to get the ball inside against the Mercury's zone. Said Mercury coach Corey Gaines, "We get outrebounded a lot but it's the type of rebounds that we do get. We get rebounds that allow us to get out on the break and get easy shots. Then they come down and pound it in on us and we switched our defense to go a rover zone or man to man so they have to take time."
Despite the inside dominance of the Sparks, the Mercury were able to force LA into wind sprints up and down the court, and had the horses to go the distance. While the Sparks essentially went 6 deep, the Mercury got solid contributions all the way down the bench, including 18 points from Penny Taylor, 13 of which came in the second half when the Sparks threatened to come back and steal the victory from the Mercury. Her 4 of 6 led a 3-point barrage (14-30, 46.7%) by the Mercury.
Sparks Coach Michael Cooper was confident of his team's ability to rebound from tonight's loss and turn the series around in Phoenix: "We're going to head down to Phoenix for two games, and we're going to go down there and get this first one."
The Mercury, however, and their league-leading offense, will have something to say about that, though Diana Taurasi acknowledged that there was no way this Sparks team was about to roll over and give the Mercury another trip to the Finals.
"They're veterans and they have four Hall of Famers on that team. They're not just going to come into Phoenix and sunbathe; they're going to try to win two games."
The series now heads back to Phoenix with game 2 on Friday night at 7pm on NBATV and game 3 (if needed) on Sunday.