PHOENIX(AP) It took three quarters for the Phoenix offense to get going. It was the Mercury's defense that helped get them into the WNBA's Western Conference finals.
Diana Taurasi scored 30 points and keyed a tiebreaking run in the fourth quarter to help the Mercury advance with a 100-92 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 3 of their opening round series Monday night.
"Going into the fourth we made a concerned effort to make things more difficult for them,'' Taurasi said. "That's why we had an opportunity to go up.''
Taurasi and Tangela Smith each scored five points during the Mercury's 14-4 run that gave Phoenix an 86-76 lead with 5:14 remaining. Taurasi also finished with six assists.
"The fourth quarter, when they hit a couple of shots, I wasn't worried,'' Mercury coach Corey Gaines said of the Silver Stars grabbing a 72-66 lead early in the final period. "I knew the fatigue would kick in for them.''
The top-seeded Mercury will open the West finals against the Los Angeles Sparks at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night.
"I think most importantly our defensive intensity picked up right when we needed it, at the right moment,'' said Cappie Pondexter, who added 17 points for Phoenix. "That allows us to be right here, with smiles on our faces, going to the next round to see L.A.''
Becky Hammon led the Silver Stars with 29 points while Vickie Johnson - playing the final game of her WNBA career - added 24 points, including four 3-pointers, and six rebounds.
"I just wanted to come out and just give everything I had,'' the 12-year veteran said, reaffirming her decision to retire. "Leave everything on the court and just play hard. And I did that. I have no regrets. Like I said, I'm very proud of my team and we just didn't get it done.''
Smith added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Mercury, who were a league-best 23-11 during the regular season. Penny Taylor had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists off the bench for Phoenix.
San Antonio, which lost to Detroit in the WNBA finals last year, was the first Western Conference team to make the postseason with a losing record at 15-19.
Taurasi scored 14 points in the first half and led 10-2 run that gave Phoenix a 43-35 lead with 3:14 left but San Antonio scored the last seven points of the half to pull to 43-42 at the break.
"I think we created the type of game we wanted to create in a lot of ways,'' said San Antonio coach Dan Hughes. "But I thought they were still effective late in a couple of ways to get the separation.''
Phoenix opened up a six-point lead in the third but Edwige Lawson-Wade and Johnson hit back to back 3-pointers to tie the game and it stayed close.
Taurasi hit a 26-footer at the top of key to tie the score at 72 with 8:25 left.
Hammon made 10 of 18 from the field, including 6 of 11 from beyond the arc after being held to 13 points in a Game 2 loss.
"They have a lot of great players, that's what happened,'' Hammon said. "I thought we did some things well but we had a couple of back-to-back turnovers down the stretch and they really hurt us.''
The Silver Stars won the opener of the series, 92-91, at home. Phoenix tied it with a 106-78 victory on Saturday.
Phoenix beat Los Angeles in three of their four meetings during the regular season, including both games at the Staples Center.
"This is a great way to prepare for L.A.,'' said Taylor, a member of the Mercury's 2007 WNBA champion team with Taurasi and Pondexter. "This is a tough, tough team but L.A. is a different team in the sense that they're bigger and have other threats.''