The Phoenix Mercury dealt the Sparks three of their four home losses this season, the final one being the knockout punch.
The Sparks were eliminated from the playoffs Monday in a 78-77 loss to the Mercury in Game 3 of their best-of-three first-round series in front of an announced crowd of 9,321 at Staples Center.
With the Sparks trailing, 76-75, Candace Parker drove to the basket and made a layup, giving them the lead with seven seconds left.
Brittney Griner responded with a 15-foot turnaround jumper from the baseline with 4.9 seconds remaining and the Mercury advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time since it won the WNBA championship in 2009.
“It's hard because we put so much into this and I'm sick of always being on this podium talking after a loss,” said Parker, who missed a contested jumper in the closing seconds.
The game had 14 lead changes, with the Sparks' biggest lead being eight points and the Mercury's seven. But the Mercury outshot the Sparks, 49.3% to 39.4%, and had 42 points in the paint to the Sparks' 30.
The Sparks, who averaged 18.8 assists during the regular season, had 10 on Monday.
"Sometimes in a series you get a little leg weary or brain weary,” Sparks Coach Carol Ross said.
Parker, the league's most valuable player, had 18 points and seven rebounds, after scoring 28 points and 31 points in Games 1 and 2, respectively.
The Sparks were led by Kristi Toliver, who had 22 points and six rebounds after combining for 10 points in the first two games.
“We did things right at times and we did things wrong at times,” Toliver said. “We just didn't put everything together for 40 minutes, we kind of went back and forth.”
Monday's loss marked the second consecutive season that the Sparks were eliminated by a one-point loss on their home court. Last season, they lost to the Minnesota Lynx in Game 2 of the conference finals, 80-79.
“When the same things keep happening over and over and over and over again, at some point, you know, coach talked about looking in the mirror and figuring out what's going on,” said Parker, who was drafted by the Sparks in 2008 and has yet to win a championship.
“There's possessions that I wish we could have done differently, that I wish I could have done differently, so I guess it's just taking that into the off-season and trying to get as near perfect as possible, because I think that's what it's going to take.”
Toliver said that if it were up to her, the same Sparks team would return next season to try to win their first championship since titles in 2001 and 2002. “We have the pieces, we have the talent, we just have to get over the hump,” Toliver said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun