PHOENIX -- What it meant to Lisa Leslie for Los Angeles to win 87-76 on Friday in Phoenix goes without saying. And the fact is, Leslie really hasn't said much about it to her teammates.
Sure, it's the unspoken weight every Spark carries, to some extent, but Leslie isn't putting it on their shoulders. At 37 and a lock to someday be in every possible basketball hall of fame she's eligible for, Leslie is going about her business the same as always.
Warming up before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, with one more loss meaning the end of her season and career, Leslie looked completely calm.
"I don't feel emotional about it," she said before tipoff. "I just feel like, 'This is what I do, and I'm trying to do my best. I want to finish up strong.' Being down, having to come here and we need to win two it's not impossible."
No, it isn't -- especially not when you have the teammates Leslie does. It's why she didn't panic during a third quarter in which she was forced to the bench with five fouls. That might have been sick-to-your-stomach time if you were a Leslie fan, but Candace Parker and Betty Lennox, in particular, provided a soothing dose of Pepto-Bismol.
Parker had another magnificent playoff game, with 24 points and 18 rebounds. It was not a great shooting performance from Phoenix (27-of-68, 39.7 percent) and Parker was very often there to keep the Mercury from getting second chances.
Meanwhile, Lennox really had to step forward in the third quarter, once Leslie was out and the Sparks needed some additional scoring help. Lennox finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists -- moreover, she played with so much confidence. As if she were sending out a message to her teammates: "Hey, no problem, it's OK. We've got this."
And the Sparks really did have it from the start. They led by as much as 16 in the first quarter, with Parker and Leslie acting as dual sledgehammers. L.A. led 49-34 at the half, with Parker and Leslie combining to shoot 14-for-21 from the field in the first half.
Having Phoenix at arm's length, though, doesn't really mean the same thing it probably would against most teams. The Mercury players were missing a lot of shots and getting clobbered on the boards. But at any point, Phoenix can get some steals and pop a couple of 3-pointers and make its opponents feel like it's suddenly breathing down their necks.
And if the threat of a Phoenix breakout at any time wasn't enough for L.A. to be worried about, Leslie picked up her third, fourth and fifth fouls in a span of less than three minutes early in the third quarter.
"As soon as I got the fifth foul," she said, "I huddled the players over at the bench and said, 'You know what, we have to find a way to win. We're not just a one-player team. Right now, we're good enough for you guys to carry me.'"
Lennox said she didn't necessarily feel she had to do anything she wasn't used to doing.
"It was just me fitting in and fulfilling my role," said Lennox, who was a pivotal player on Seattle's 2004 WNBA championship team. "When my name is called, I need to go out and do what I'm capable of doing. And that's what I did tonight.
"Obviously, it was big because Lisa was out, but it's nothing abnormal. This is the playoffs, and this is my 10th season in the league. I've been in situations like this before, so I know how to handle it."
Parker, by contrast, is just in her second season, and this a shortened one for her after giving birth to her daughter in May. But she already plays as if she has been through all this many, many times.
There was something about the way Parker looked Friday that reminded me of the 2008 Elite Eight game when, despite her shoulder becoming dislocated a couple of times, she still led Tennessee's comeback over Texas A&M.
At the time I was sitting next to a writer who followed the Aggies, and when they were ahead with about six minutes to go he said, "Is this real? Is A&M really going to the Final Four?" And I said, "I gotta tell you, I just don't think Parker is going to let that happen." And she didn't.
On Friday, Parker -- who led the league in rebounding average this season -- had the highest rebound total so far in the 2009 playoffs. Her 18 were part of the 43-28 overall advantage L.A. had on the boards.
Leslie said the Sparks jokingly often razz Parker if she doesn't rule the glass.
"Because the [3 position] is usually guarding her, she's going to dominate," Leslie said. "We're telling her every time, if she's not heading to the boards we're fussing at her. So she's been chastised all season about rebounding, because she's the one with the mismatch. That's our advantage right now: It's going to be rebounding.
"And it's awesome -- I'm happy to have her on my team. She's a great young player. For us to have our careers -- with mine ending and hers kind of beginning together, it's been really great for the both of us. I'm always telling her what she needs to do next: 'You need to add this, and you'll be great!' That motivates her a lot."
Leslie laughed as she said that, as if she were the older sister pushing the young one. But the reality is, Leslie hasn't burdened Parker or any of the Sparks with the suggestion that they have to win anything "for" her.
"We really haven't spoken about how every game now could be the last for Lisa," Parker said. "Of course, we all know it. Obviously, I don't want it to end. I want her to go out on top and get another ring. She really, truly is a legend.
"We go about this like professionals because we don't want to get overemotional about everything. Because you play crazy sometimes when you're emotional."
And there was nothing at all crazy in what the Sparks did Friday. It was a tough, well-executed game in which everyone played so well that even Leslie's foul trouble just ended up being a footnote -- something that could have been high drama, but wasn't.
Leslie finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Both DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson had 11 points, and they combined for 13 rebounds.
Leslie says the one way the ticking clock on her career is affecting her is just this: It makes her push even harder for perfection.
"How do I want my last game to look?" she said. "That's driving me -- making me play harder, not take off possessions, going after loose rebounds. It's helping me to focus on what it is I need to do. Establishing that inside presence: My job is to get on the block. If I can score, score. If I'm double-teamed, find the open player. I think I've been doing that, and I'm not ready to stop.
"I don't know what my destiny is, but I'm trying to write it. I don't how we're going to get there, I just want to get there."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.