If you only watched the first 35 minutes of Friday night's game, you wouldn't know the Phoenix Mercury could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory tonight. They played sluggish and sloppy for the first three-quarters and with five minutes left, it was too late for them to rev their engines. The Los Angeles Sparks had blown by them a long time ago.
Led by the ever patient but lethal Candace Parker, who finished the game with 26 points and 10 rebounds, the Sparks were dominant all game long. Their hellacious defense in the first quarter led directly to offensive opportunities. In particular, Kristi Toliver's smooth and fearless shooting from range (she finished with 17 points) and Jantel Lavender's mastery from all over the floor (she finished 7-10 from the field with 15 points).
Even as the Mercury showed signs of resuscitation with their aggressive start to the second half, the Sparks remained in control of the tempo, knocking down shots to squander any Mercury momentum. With less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Phoenix was able to pull within three but a wasted possession and eventual turnover gave all the mojo back to Los Angeles.
Despite 20 points from Brittney Griner and 15 from Candice Dupree, the Mercury's inconsistent play all game was no match for the Sparks. With the loss, Phoenix remains in second place in the Western Conference but they play three of their next four games on the road. The Sparks will head to San Antonio to play the Stars on Sunday.