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Sparks grind out win against Mercury in Game 1

Los Angeles — In a game that featured 46 combined personal fouls and six official reviews, the Los Angeles Sparks pulled through 79-66 to take a 1-0 series lead against the Phoenix Mercury.

“These teams know each other extremely well,” said Sparks coach Brian Agler. “When that happens, and both teams are scouted well, it’s almost like the game is bogged down. I imagine most games are going to be like this.”

The Mercury came out strong and got three 3-pointers from Leilani Mitchell and 14 points from Brittney Griner in the first-half. Phoenix looked confident after winning two straight single elimination playoff games:

The Mercury led 23-19 after the first quarter and went into the half tied at 42. But the Sparks came out and played looser on offense and buckled down on defense.

“Alana, [Beard] she’s the head of the snake and we follow suit,” said Sparks center Nneka Ogwumike. “We communicated a lot better going into the second half on defense. We were just a tad bit lax in the first half and they were hitting some open shots. We just needed to ramp it up a little bit.”

The Sparks definitely ramped it up, holding the Mercury to 24 second half points and Griner to just four second half points, before she fouled out midway through the fourth quarter on an offensive foul that required an official review. Diana Taurasi, primarily guarded by Beard, scored just six points.

Offensively, Chelsea Gray had a particularly strong game both dishing assists like this:

And taking the smaller Mitchell to the basket:

All five Sparks starters were in double figures, led by Ogwumike with 19.

“We’re going to have to figure out a way to limit someone,” said Taurasi. “We obviously know Nneka [Ogwumike] and Candace [Parker], what they’re capable of doing. When Odyssey [Sims] plays like that it becomes very difficult. We’re just going to have to do a better job on limiting the easy points. I think we did that for the most part today but we had a couple runs where we had some defensive breakdowns that really hurt us.”

Beard, who found out she won Defensive Player of the Year Tuesday, also chipped in with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. The Mercury will have to figure out a way to slow down a well-balanced Los Angeles team.

“They’re just persistent,” said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “That’s what makes them a championship team.”

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