Johnson's shooting lifts Silver Stars past Sparks

SAN ANTONIO(AP) Vickie Johnson had a career high-tying 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting to lead the San Antonio Silver Stars to an 89-72 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night.

"I wanted to be aggressive when I got the ball,'' Johnson said. "As individuals, we just wanted to be aggressive and take what the defense gives us, and they gave us some open shots.''

Sophia Young scored 17 points, Becky Hammon had 11 points and Edwidge Lawson-Wade added 11 points and 11 assists for San Antonio (14-17), which has won three straight for the first time this season. The Silver Stars moved one game behind third-place Los Angeles in the Western Conference.

"The beginning of the season is over, and the last six games are very important,'' Johnson said. "The team that's playing well at that time is the team that does well in the playoffs and the championship.''

Lisa Leslie scored 21 points, and Candace Parker had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as the Sparks (15-16) lost their second straight game and their second straight chance at clinching a playoff berth. Tina Thompson added 12 points.

Los Angeles' loss gave Seattle second place in the West and home-court advantage in the first round.

Like Tuesday night when they blew a seven-point lead in a loss to Atlanta, the problems started for the Sparks in the third quarter. They trailed by one, but Johnson - who has announced she is retiring after the season - made 6 of 7 shots, including three 3-pointers, and San Antonio outscored the Sparks 28-15 in the third quarter.

"She still has those little bursts of energy,'' Hammon said of Johnson. "You can still throw the ball up (the floor) to her and you know she's going to turn the jets on and go underneath and get it. She was unbelievable tonight.''

The Sparks committed 17 turnovers leading to 19 points for the Silver Stars. San Antonio had six turnovers.

"There's no way we can come out and have that many turnovers and expect to get a win against this type of team,'' Leslie said. "They're definitely not going to beat themselves.''

Leslie, who is also playing her final season, tried to start a rally for the Sparks with a three-point play late in the third quarter. She rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Betty Lennox and quickly followed with a basket and a free throw after being fouled by Johnson to cut San Antonio's lead to 58-48 with 1:49 left in the period.

However, the Silver Stars pulled away and led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter.

The Sparks shot 68 percent in the first half - including 9 of 11 in the second quarter - yet trailed 36-35 at halftime. Parker was 5 of 5 in the second quarter and the Sparks' reserves were 4 of 4.

The Sparks even had a 14-11 edge in rebounding, but none of those came on the offensive end and the Silver Stars were up 7-0 in second-chance points. Los Angeles committed 12 turnovers and San Antonio scored 14 points off of those.

"Turnovers killed us tonight, and our defense wasn't very good,'' Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "It's always a big deal when you give a team like that second and third shots. But in the second half it didn't matter what we did, they got on fire and they were hitting shots.''

Los Angeles blew a six-point lead by committing two turnovers and going scoreless in the final two minutes of the half. The Silver Stars trimmed that lead to one point on Johnson's 3-pointer with 29 seconds left, and took the lead when Johnson hit an off-balance shot at the buzzer.

After missing three games to be with her family after the passing of her grandmother in Australia, Kristi Harrower returned to the Sparks and started at point guard. She played seven minutes and did not score or have an assist.

These teams, both with three games remaining in the regular season, play again Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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