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Parker, Leslie help Sparks even West finals

PHOENIX(AP) Candace Parker had 24 points and 18 rebounds, Lisa Leslie scored 20 points, and the Los Angeles Sparks forced a deciding third game of the Western Conference finals with an 87-76 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night.

Leslie and Parker combined for 31 first-half points as the third-seeded Sparks ran out to an early lead and had a 49-34 advantage by halftime. Phoenix pulled within nine in the second half after Leslie picked up her fifth foul with 6:23 left in the third.

The Mercury then cut the deficit to 75-67 with 3:59 left but got no closer.

Diana Taurasi had 25 points before fouling out in the final minute while fellow all-WNBA first-teamer Cappie Pondexter had 19 to lead Phoenix.

Game 3 is Saturday night in Phoenix.

The Mercury, who had the best regular-season record in WNBA at 23-11, beat Los Angeles 103-94 in Wednesdays series opener.

Phoenix, the best shooting team in the league, made just 27 of 68 (40 percent) from the floor and 7 of 20 (35 percent) from beyond the arc.

Betty Lennox added 17 points and Tina Thompson had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Sparks, who shot 42 percent (31 for 74) and outrebounded the Mercury 43-28.

Phoenix was held well under the 100 points a game they averaged in their first four playoff games. Tangela Smith scored 14 points.

Smith hit two jumpers to cut the lead to 56-47 with 4:37 left in the third after Leslie got three fouls in a 2:22 span, forcing her to the bench for the rest of the period.

The Sparks slowed down the Mercurys running game at the outset, jumping to a 15-4 lead in the first 5 minutes. Los Angeles made 12 of 25 from the field in the first quarter while Phoenix missed seven of its first 10 shots and were outrebounded 13-2, trailing 31-17 after the first 10 minutes.

The Mercury were held to 13-of-34 shooting in the first half and outrebounded 24-12 as Los Angeles led by as much as 20 in the first half.

The Mercury won three of four during regular season, the only loss coming at home in the regular season finale in a game Taurasi sat out.