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Candace Parker helps Sparks pull even with Mercury

PHOENIX -- After losing their playoff opener at home, the Los Angeles Sparks managed better ball movement against the Phoenix Mercury in Game 2. That proved to be the difference.

Candace Parker had 31 points and 11 rebounds to help the Sparks beat the Mercury 82-73 on Saturday night, evening their WNBA Western Conference semifinal series. The deciding Game 3 will be Monday night in Los Angeles.

"If we don't move the ball and if we don't make quick decisions, then we play right into Phoenix's hands," Parker said. "So I think we just made more of a concerted effort to move the ball, make hard cuts, and at least stay active because there was a lot of standing (in Game 1) in L.A."

Diana Taurasi, who scored 30 points in Phoenix's win at Los Angeles on Thursday, had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting. However, after trailing at halftime for the second straight game, the Mercury couldn't rally for the win this time.

Taurasi said Phoenix got caught doing exactly what Parker warned against.

"The ball got stuck a lot in my hands, in DB's (DeWanna Bonner's) hands," Taurasi said. "There wasn't enough movement, we didn't create enough for each other and when the game gets hard and the pressure is on you really rely on each other to get open and get good shots and tonight we didn't do that."

Sparks coach Carol Ross said the difference was slight from Thursday to Saturday.

"These are two pretty evenly matched teams, that, like two old heavyweight fighters slugging it out," Ross said. "You are looking for any weakness on every possession and sometimes there are not a lot of them so you have to keep punching until you find something."

Among the differences from the first to the second game was turnovers -- Phoenix made 17, seven more than it did on Thursday. Also, the Sparks had an edge inside, outrebounding the Mercury 37-35 and outshooting them by two percentage points.

"Everything was clear and simple with what we wanted to do and I think we did it a little bit better," Ross said. "There wasn't any major scheme change really, we just tried to emphasize the things that we do well and try to keep Taurasi from taking over."

Nneka Ogwumike also had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Lindsey Harding scored 13 points and Alana Beard added 12 for the Sparks. Two days after receiving the league's MVP award for the second time, Parker shot 13 for 24 from the field and 5 for 6 on free throws.

Brittney Griner scored 18 points and Candice Dupree added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Mercury.

Parker had 15 points and four rebounds in the second quarter as the Sparks extended their early lead to a 44-30 advantage at the break and then held off Phoenix in the second half. Los Angeles led by 13 in the fourth quarter.

"I just thought that they had a little bit more energy early on and played a little bit more desperate than we did," Phoenix coach Russ Pennell said. "That was one of my big concerns coming in to this game. Sometimes you win a game like we did on the road, even at this level people's natural tendency is maybe to have a little bit of complacency. I didn't really sense that in our team but I know that Los Angeles had to win this game. So I thought we let them get away from us early."

The Mercury chipped away a bit in the third period with Taurasi getting 11 points to help her team get within 10 going into the final period but Phoenix never got the deficit to single digits until the final 3:07.

The Mercury pulled to 76-71 on Taurasi's two free throws with 34.8 seconds remaining, but Los Angeles made 6 of 8 from the line the rest of the way to seal the win.

"Our rhythm was thrown off early," Taurasi said. "It took us a long time to get that back. That's just something simple that we have to concentrate on from the beginning and it will work itself out."

Phoenix committed 12 turnovers in the first half -- more than they totaled in the opener on Thursday -- leading to 10 Sparks points in an otherwise even first half.

The Mercury also got in foul trouble again, with Dupree picking up her third with 5:33 left in the second and Taurasi her third less than a minute later -- both on the offensive end.

Los Angeles scored the last four points of the first quarter to take a 17-13 lead after 10 minutes.