LOS ANGELES -- The Phoenix Mercury breezed by the Los Angeles Sparks 93-68 Sunday night in a game that bore little resemblance to the series opener's near-photo finish.
With the win, the Mercury advance to the Western Conference finals, where they'll meet the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, while the Sparks have been eliminated by Phoenix for the second straight postseason.
There was little doubt about the outcome of the game from the beginning, as the Mercury jumped out to a 16-4 start and never looked back. After one quarter of play, Phoenix was shooting 68.8 percent and leading 30-14, while owning the glass with an 8-3 advantage.
The Sparks would never lead in the game. Not once.
Brittney Griner bounced back from a six-point, 2-for-11 Game 1 in a huge way, efficiently scoring 21 points in less than 19 minutes of court time. She shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the field and registered two emphatic blocks in the easy Mercury win. The second-year center's struggles from two nights earlier seemed ages ago, as she scored four quick points in Game 2's opening minute and kept on scoring.
"I thought tonight she (Griner) really established herself deep in the paint," said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello, who was named WNBA Coach of the Year after leading her team to a league-record 29 wins. "And when she's that deep, it's really hard for teams to bring that trap, because she can go automatically into that shot."
"Sandy definitely made it a point to tell me to get both feet down in the paint, get as low a position as I could, and I did," Griner said after the win. "I wasn't running myself out of the paint or letting them push me out. Establish down low, close to the rim. When you're close to the rim and 6-8, that helps."
Griner wasn't Phoenix's only offensive star of the night. In a well-rounded, dominant offensive showing, Phoenix enjoyed double-digit scoring from each of its starters except for Diana Taurasi, who finished with nine points, seven assists and five rebounds. Penny Taylor contributed 17 points, with Candice Dupree adding 16 points and eight rebounds.
"The other night, BG didn't have her greatest game, but she made some plays down the stretch for us to be successful," said Taurasi. "Tonight, it was her turn to play amazing and Penny came out aggressive, DB (DeWanna Bonner) had a couple steals that set the tone. If we chip away little by little and everyone does their part, there's a certain satisfaction that we get by winning games when everyone contributes that's greater than one person going out there and trying to do everything for us."
"We just had so many weapons and it was hard for them to combat it," added Brondello.
Midway through the third period, Griner stole a Sparks bounce pass and dribbled coast to coast for a rim-rattling, two-handed dunk. The jam extended the Mercury lead to 25 points, 67-42. Fifteen minutes remained in the game, but for all intents and purposes it was over.
Phoenix's comfortable lead - one that never shrank to fewer than 20 points following halftime - allowed the Mercury to rest Taurasi and Taylor for the entire fourth quarter, and Griner for the last eight minutes.
Although Los Angeles committed just two more turnovers than Phoenix, the Mercury took better advantage of their opponents' mistakes, scoring 23 points off 14 Sparks turnovers.
"Our transition defense tonight was horrific," said Sparks head coach and general manager Penny Toler following the game. "It's one thing to turn the ball over. If you turn the ball over, get back on defense. If you're not gonna get back on defense against any team - it didn't even have to be the Mercury tonight; it could be any team - you're gonna pay the piper. And you're definitely gonna pay the piper against these cats."
For their part, the Sparks could only convert 12 Mercury turnovers into nine points.
Outside of forwards Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, not a single Sparks player scored in double figures. The next-leading scorer, Kristi Toliver, converted just 3-of-11 field goals and missed all six of her 3-point attempts.
The blowout defeat ends a disappointing Sparks season that began with championship aspirations following two 24-10 seasons and a franchise-saving change in ownership. By July 21, a 10-12 start resulted in head coach Carol Ross' dismissal and subsequent replacement by general manager Penny Toler. The team finished 6-6, notching signature wins vs. Atlanta and at Minnesota, but couldn't seem to find its identity in time.
According to Parker, who finished the game with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists, winning is not simply a switch that can be turned on whenever a team desires.
"We didn't behave or act like a championship team from start to finish," Parker said, "and from the championships that I've won in college, dating back to high school, Olympics, things like that, you do it from start to finish. You can't just start doing stuff in the postseason ‘cuz it's a new season."
In the post-game press conference, Toler reiterated her desire to leave the sidelines and return to her front office role exclusively. She said that changes will be made to the roster not because she was disappointed or upset with anyone in particular, but because even championship teams don't return fully intact.
"There'll be changes, because every year this league is getting better," said Toler.
"We gotta come out and we gotta be more mentally tough. Just straight up. We have to be, because it's no way we should've lost this many games that we did at home."
The Sparks lost 10 of 17 regular-season games at Staples Center in 2014. Most costly, their 11th home loss has officially ended a season that started with such high hopes.
For more on the series, check out our Mercury vs. Sparks storystream.