Mercury cruise past Sparks for 16th straight win
By AL BRAVO
PHOENIX (AP) Facing a short-handed Los Angeles Sparks team playing for the second straight night, the Phoenix Mercury needed a half to get going before cruising to their 16th straight win.
Diana Taurasi had 17 points and four assists as Phoenix beat Los Angeles 90-69 on Tuesday night, giving the Mercury the second-longest winning streak in league history. Phoenix (22-3) passed the Houston Comets' 15-game run in 1998 and moved two games shy of the WNBA mark of 18 straight by Los Angeles in 2001.
The Mercury also won their 11th straight at home, tying a franchise mark set in 1999.
Los Angeles played for the second consecutive game without leading scorer Candace Parker, who remained in California nursing a left knee strain. Despite her absence, the Sparks led by five in the first half and trailed by just three at the break.
"When their best player, you know that she's out, it's just a natural thing to take your foot off the pedal," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "I've seen it happen so much as a player, and obviously coaching experiences all around the world. So we didn't have the right energy coming out."
Candice Dupree had 16 points and nine rebounds while Brittney Griner added 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Mercury. Taurasi and Griner both sat out the fourth quarter.
"We kept ourselves down for 20 minutes but we got going again, that's the main thing, as long as we can change it within the game," Brondello said.
Nneka Ogwumike had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Sparks (12-15), who are now 2-3 since general manager Penny Toler took over as coach during the All-Star break. Los Angeles has lost four of six overall.
Kristi Tolliver added 14 points and seven assists for the Sparks, who kept it close for more than a half.
"Whenever a team comes in without their best player, other players pick up the slack and do a little bit more," Taurasi said. "They showed what kind of team they are. They have a lot of heart and a lot of character, and they played really well for most of the game."
Phoenix used a third-quarter run to break open a three-point game at halftime. The Mercury scored 12 straight points, using its break and scoring twice off of steals, to take a 62-45 lead with 3:08 left in the period.
"The crowd got in it and we got a little rattled," Toler said. "When we got rattled, I think they might have outscored us 14-2, but like I told them, from that moment, as a team and as players you get better, come down, slow the ball down and let's execute. We didn't execute in that stretch."
Phoenix led 66-51 going into the fourth quarter and did not allow Los Angeles to get any closer than 11 points.
The Mercury, who lead the league in scoring and hold opponents to the fewest points, were 39.5 percent from the field while allowing Los Angeles to shoot 58 percent although Phoenix still led 42-39 at the break.
"It was a mess," Dupree said. "It was a mess on both ends of the floor. We lacked energy, missing shots, bad defense, wasn't pretty.
"It's just defense, being able to shut them down," she added. "They were killing us off the pick-and-roll. We kind of eliminated that in the second half. So when we are playing good defense, we are at our best, leads out to buckets in transition, moving the ball a lot better in the second half, just good-looking basketball."
Phoenix held Ogwumike to 2-of-9 shooting in the second half after she made 7-of-8 in the first half, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds.
Reserve Shay Murphy added a second-half spark, scoring 10 points and getting three assists, mostly in the second half.
Los Angeles scored eight straight points in the first quarter to take a 24-20 lead. The Sparks held the league's best offensive team to 7-for-21 shooting. However, Taurasi and Murphy hit 3-pointers during a 10-0 run that gave Phoenix a 32-27 lead with 6:20 left in the first half.
Phoenix has beaten Los Angeles in its previous three meetings earlier this season.
Updated July 30, 2014