Mercury reach finals by beating Leslie, Sparks

PHOENIX(AP) Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury are heading to the WNBA finals, and Lisa Leslie is heading off to retirement.

Taurasi scored 15 of her 21 points in the second half and added seven rebounds and three assists to lead the Mercury past the Los Angeles Sparks, 85-74 on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

"It comes down to just wanting the game sometimes,'' Taurasi said. "Not necessarily defensive schemes, plays, just wanting the game. And unlike last (Friday) night, tonight we wanted the game. We didn't necessarily play great basketball on either end but we went and took the game.''

The West No. 1 seed Mercury will open the best-of-five WNBA finals at home Tuesday against East top seed Indiana, a 72-67 winner over Detroit earlier Saturday.

"It kind of looked like we missed out on a good game,'' outgoing Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "The Mercury established their game early on us and we never recovered from it.''

Leslie, one of the original WNBA players, had 22 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 1:39 left in the last game of her career.

"I feel great,'' the 12-year veteran said in confirming her retirement after the game. "You know why? Because I have no regrets. Every time I stepped out on that court I played as hard as I could, I've left everything out there.

"Today is my last day of playing professional basketball, but I will stay close to the game because I feel I need to be a part of it.''

Added Taurasi: "You have Lisa, who didn't want to play her last game, and the way she played this series, (she) probably got another 3-4 good years left under her belt.''

Candace Parker, who averaged 26 points in the first two games, was held to six points before fouling out with 3:09 left. She added nine rebounds.

"I think Le'Coe Willingham played exceptional on both ends of the floor,'' Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter said. "She made it difficult for Candace to get any good looks. She ran the floor really well and she was key for us tonight.''

Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor each scored 12 points for the Mercury, who led by as much as 22 in the first half. They will have home-court advantage in the finals.

Phoenix and Indiana split their two games during the season, each winning on the other team's home court.

Parker didn't make a basket until an inside shot with 3:55 left in the first half after she got her third foul less than a minute into the second quarter. However, by halftime, one of the fouls was found to be inadvertently assigned to Parker. She was just 2 of 6 from the field and 2 of 4 from the free throw line.

The Sparks got within 13 early in the third quarter but the Mercury opened a 57-36 lead after Cooper was given a technical foul for arguing a call with 3:43 left in the third. However, Tina Thompson had a three-point play and a 3-point shot to key a 12-4 run to end the period and get Los Angeles within 61-48 going into the fourth quarter.

Phoenix answered with a 9-4 run to start the fourth and never led by less than 14 in the period.

"The Mercury came out tonight and we came out with the intensity and fullcourt style of play that helped us push through to the next round,'' Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "And the next round is going to be an interesting contrast of defense-offense.''

Willingham added 17 points and six rebounds for the Mercury. Thompson had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Sparks, and Betty Lennox added 19 points.

Los Angeles missed 13 of its first 15 shots and tied the record for the fewest points in the first quarter of a playoff game, trailing 19-7 after 10 minutes. Phoenix built a 41-19 lead in the second quarter but allowed the Sparks to score the last six points of the half.

Los Angeles finished the night 23 of 65 (35 percent) from the field and committed 16 turnovers, which became 21 Mercury points.

"It's been a joy coaching her,'' Cooper said of Leslie, his voice breaking. "Obviously we wanted her to go out on top and that's not going to happen. But you know what, she had a heck of a career, I thought she did a wonderful job for us this whole entire series.''

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