LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Sparks were rusty to start the playoffs.
Coming in off an eight-day layoff, they fell behind early before rallying to beat the Phoenix Mercury 79-66 to open defense of their WNBA championship on Tuesday night.
Nneka Ogwumike scored 19 points to lead five starters in double figures in Game 1 of the best-of-5 series.
Candace Parker added 15 points while playing with five fouls. Ogwumike overcame four fouls. Chelsea Gray had 13 points, Odyssey Sims 12 and Alana Beard 11.
“Their chemistry you can tell is pretty strong right now,” Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi said. “They seem a lot more sure of themselves and they showed that tonight.”
Leilani Mitchell led the Mercury with 19 points and made five 3-pointers, both career playoff highs. Brittney Griner added 18 points — but just four in the second half — before fouling out with 4:44 left in the game.
“Some of the calls just didn’t go our way,” Griner said. “Next game we’re going to have to be on our front foot a little bit more and hope we get some of those calls.”
Beard’s defense helped limit Taurasi to 2 of 10 shooting for a career playoff low six points.
“In the first half, she got hit, knocked down and got right up and went and found D,” Parker said of her teammate. “She’s persistent.”
After trailing much of the first half, the Sparks pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Phoenix 14-6 to lead 56-48.
“If it was one-and-done, we’d be going on vacation tomorrow pretty (ticked) off,” Taurasi said. “We’ll take this game in stride. We didn’t play great in large stretches of the game and we still had an opportunity.”
Things got testy with 28 seconds left in the period. Phoenix’s Emma Cannon and the Sparks’ Essence Carson were called for double technicals after exchanging words. Before that, Phoenix’s Camille Little was called for a blocking foul, with Parker on the floor with her legs in the air and her arms protecting her face.
Parker’s 3-pointer in the fourth gave Los Angeles its first double-digit lead of the game at 61-50. The Mercury closed to 70-63 on Little’s basket.
“I’m proud of how we adjusted,”…