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Lauren Jackson leads Storm to first playoff series win since 2004

LOS ANGELES -- Once again, the Seattle Storm were were just too much for the Los Angeles Sparks.

Lauren Jackson had 24 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three steals as the Storm beat the Sparks 81-66 Saturday to sweep their best-of-three Wetern Conference semifinals series.

"Lauren makes that big of an impact," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "It's not just the scoring. It's her ability to recognize double-teams and find open people. It's what she does defensively."

Swin Cash scored 16 points and Sue Bird added 15 to lead Seattle, which was a league-best 28-6 in the regular season. The Storm won a postseason series for the first time since winning the WNBA finals in 2004, and beat the Sparks in all seven matchups this year -- including five in the regular season.

"I'm just glad we got the win here," Jackson said. "For me, it means a lot. As long as I've been playing, L.A.'s been our No. 1 nemesis, really. It doesn't matter who they have on their roster. They're always going to be tough."

The Storm will face Phoenix in the conference finals, which begin Thursday night in Seattle. The Mercury beat San Antonio 92-73 earlier Saturday to sweep their series.

"It was very important to close out the series tonight knowing our next opponent closed out their series as well," Jackson said. "We need as much time to get rest and focus our attention on Phoenix and making it to the Finals."

Tina Thompson led Los Angeles with 18 points, Noelle Quinn had 15 and DeLisha Milton-Jones cored 14.

"Playing this team was a real challenge and we really had trouble stopping all their offensive weapons," Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. "In the first half, Lauren really took it to us and we made some adjustments but in the second half Bird and Cash really picked them up and took the game over."

Seattle shot 48 percent from the field (28 for 59), including 55 percent (12 for 22) on 3-pointers. The Sparks were just 38 percent (24 for 64).

Los Angeles eliminated Seattle in the first round the previous two years, but the Storm won all seven matchups this year -- going 5-0 in the regular season.

The Storm trailed by five points early in the second quarter, before an 8-2 run capped by Jackson's layup gave them a 26-25 lead with under 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half.

After Los Angeles' Ticha Penicheiro hit a jumper to tie the score at 28-all midway through the period, Jackson made two free throws and Cash had a 3 to give the Storm the lead for good.

"Sometimes, we start a bit slow but we always manage to find our way," Jackson said. "Once we started moving the ball around and finding open people, everything started to fall into place."

Los Angeles rallied and pulled to 46-44 on Penicheiro's layup with 7:06 left in the third, but Seattle scored the next six points and pushed the lead back to eight on Camille Little's basket about 2 minutes later. A 14-3 run increased the advantage to 71-54 with 7 minutes to go in the fourth.

"Our execution was poor tonight and we just couldn't capitalize on our opportunities," Quinn said. "We had a lot of trouble knocking down shots and I thought that was the difference."

Quinn and Milton-Jones made consecutive 3s to pull Los Angeles within 11 with 4:40 left, but that was as close as the Sparks got.

Los Angeles completed a disappointing first season in the post-Lisa Leslie era. The Sparks lost Candace Parker 10 games in and were 3-11 before splitting their last 20 games to take the No. 4 seed in the West.

"Losing players and facing adversity is something these players must get used to," Thompson said. "I thought our team played hard throughout the season and I'm proud how we left everything on the floor."