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Candace Parker’s greatness, clutch shot ends Phoenix’s season

Phoenix entered Sunday’s game knowing its season could potentially end with another loss to Los Angeles. The Mercury stormed back behind huge three-pointers from Diana Taurasi, however, Candace Parker was playing on another level which led to the Sparks completing the series sweep.

Los Angeles Sparks v Phoenix Mercury - Game Three Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Phoenix, AZ — The Los Angeles Sparks thoroughly outclassed the Phoenix Mercury in a 3-0 series sweep to advance to the WNBA Finals to face the Minnesota Lynx in a repeat of last year’s Finals.

Despite a late game surge from the Mercury (led by Diana Taurasi’s sharp shooting), Candace Parker was able to ice the game for the Sparks with an uncontested lay-in with 2.9 seconds left to give Los Angeles an 89-87 win and seal their second straight Finals appearance.

Phoenix started strong and with obvious purpose understanding it was facing elimination. The Mercury came out firing and matched their offense with gritty defense that visibly frustrated the Sparks. Fueled by Camille Little’s 12-point first quarter, Phoenix raced to an early 18-7 lead, and finished the first period with a 25-21 lead.

However, as has been the case in every game Los Angeles and Phoenix have played this season, no lead against the Sparks is safe, — that was proven again in the second quarter. With Parker and Odyssey Sims providing the firepower, the Sparks tied the game at 30, and from there the real battle begun.

Phoenix took their final lead of the game on a Yvonne Turner three-pointer with 4:26 to go in the second quarter. Chelsea Gray, as she has done all season, provided a key jumper with 4:09 to go and put the Sparks in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the half.

Los Angeles would go into halftime with a 45-28 lead, and only 20 minutes separating them from a clean sweep.

The second half was highlighted by sheer will to stay in the game by the Mercury with contested threes by Taurasi and Brittney Griner hitting shots regardless of the gritty double team coverage from Los Angeles. For the Sparks, consistent execution and smart defense made the outcome seem inevitable, however, every time they made a run, Phoenix charged back.

A Leilani Mitchell three here, a Little jumper there, and by the end of the third quarter, Phoenix had the defending champs on their heels — they only were down by one point, 63-62, going into the final frame with a chance to extend their season.

Consecutive technicals on Phoenix (Head Coach Sandy Brondello and Taurasi) seemed to turn the tide in the fourth quarter, lighting a fire under the team. A 15-6 run late led to the Mercury tying the game with 10.8 seconds left on a contested Diana Taurasi triple.

But when the Sparks needed a hero the most, they leaned on the superstar of the game: Candace Parker. With 2.9 seconds left — and a sweep on the line — Parker played party pooper in the following possession and clinched the game for Los Angeles with a drive down the lane for an uncontested lay in.

The Sparks star Parker had a stellar game (21 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks), highlighted by a game deciding lay-in, strong shooting (43.8%), effective defense on Griner, and some glitzy passing.

As for the Mercury’s stars, Griner struggled (30.4% on 7-for-22 shooting) and often was left begging the officials for foul calls after missed shots to no avail. Taurasi finished with a team-high 22 with six long range shots.

While Phoenix’s season has come to an end, Los Angeles is already looking forward to the next game on Sunday (Sept. 24) in Minneapolis against Minnesota.

“The two best teams in the league are set to face off in the Finals and that’s the way it should be,” Parker said immediately after the game in her on-court interview.