Los Angeles 103, Utah 77
Sparks Crush Starzz, Return to WNBA Finals
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 24 (Ticker) -- Another basketball championship will run through Los Angeles.
Los Angeles swept the Western Conference Finals with its fifth straight victory over Utah and improved to 4-0 this postseason. The defending champions will begin the WNBA Finals on Thursday at Washington or New York.
The Sparks are gunning for the fifth title in the last three years for the city of Los Angeles as the NBA's Lakers have won three straight. The Lakers have won all three titles since moving to STAPLES Center in 1999 and the Sparks won last year in their first season at the facility.
The game was close early and Utah guard Marie Ferdinand made two foul shots for an 18-18 tie with just over a minute to go before halftime. Leslie responded with a basket and Tamecka Dixon converted a three-point play to trigger a 16-0 run by the Sparks.
Dixon had five points and Leslie added four in the spurt. Dixon fed Latasha Byears for a layup to cap the burst for a 34-18 cushion with just under seven minutes left in the half.
"This was a great team effort on both sides of the court," Leslie said. "We played with a lot of intensity. I am really happy with our defensive intensity."
The Sparks took a 44-29 halftime lead and poured it on in the second half. The 103 points was a WNBA playoff record and a season high for Los Angeles, surpassing a 102-75 rout of Utah on July 7.
The Sparks broke their own record of 101 points in a playoff game set against Phoenix two seasons ago.
"If anyone is going to beat this team, they have to bring their 'A' game and play nearly perfect basketball," Utah coach Candi Harvey said. "We ran into a machine that was clicking on all cylinders."
Los Angeles has four starters who average in double figures and all five scored at least 10 in this one. Dixon and Mwadi Mabika each netted 15 and rookie Nikki Teasley contributed 11 and nine assists.
"Our starting five was out doing exactly what they are capable of doing," Leslie said. "Everyone is doing their part. We move the ball around and let the ball find the open players."
The Sparks shot 51 percent (38-of-74) and made 11-of-23 shots from beyond the arc, including 8-of-13 in the second half. Los Angeles registered 31 assists on their 38 baskets.
"Today was a great team effort, we had 31 assists, we really shared the ball tonight," Mabika said.
Leslie made 10-of-17 shots and dominated her battle in the pivot with 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek, who managed just six points and five rebounds.
Jennifer Azzi and Adrienne Goodson each scored 16 points for Utah, which was making its first conference finals appearance. Azzi also handed out a league playoff record 12 assists for the Starzz, who committed 18 turnovers that led to 28 points for Los Angeles.
Los Angeles used a 14-2 run for a 68-39 advantage with 11:47 remaining as Teasley had five points and Mabika added four. A three-pointer by Dixon with 6:45 remaining opened up Los Angeles' biggest lead at 88-58.
Utah fell to 1-11 all-time at Los Angeles, including 0-4 at STAPLES Center.