Johnson leads L.A. past Seattle in Game 3

Updated: August 23, 2006, 12:50 PM ET
By Miki Turner | Special to ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The writing on the wall said it all for the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night.

AP Photo/Matt SaylesGetting your shot blocked by Lauren Jackson? Not good. But Temeka Johnson responding with a 17-footer just 14 seconds later to extend the lead to four? A big part of L.A. weathering Seattle's late rally.

"Own it -- humbly, gratefully and respectfully and then share it with the world."

And that's exactly what Sparks point guard Temeka Johnson did in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals as the top-seeded Sparks slid by No. 4 Seattle, 68-63, to advance to the finals against Sacramento, which will play host to L.A. on Thursday.

Johnson, who at 5 feet, 3 inches was easily the smallest player on the court, came up big with 14 points, a game-high six assists and just one turnover in 31 minutes as she ignited the Sparks, who advanced past the first round for the first time in three years. Johnson scored eight first-half points, most of them coming off of fast breaks and drives to the hoop despite Seattle's 6-5 duo of Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse.

"She really took it to another level this evening with her penetration," said Sparks coach Joe Bryant, who hung the prophetic phrase in the Sparks' locker room before the game, though he's not sure who coined it. "We've been talking to her most of the year about that, about creating tempo and she did a great job. I was really happy and proud for her."

Johnson knew she needed to be a factor from whistle to whistle.

"I just wanted to come out and push the ball," said Johnson, last season's WNBA Rookie of the Year. "I had to make myself say I am going to give 100 percent every game -- not here and there -- but for the whole 40 minutes. I was determined to help the team by doing what I could and I just came out aggressive."

That was especially true in the second quarter. Johnson and Lisa Leslie combined to score nine points in a 12-0 Sparks' run that spanned four minutes near the end of the period to help build a 37-24 halftime lead.

Johnson continued to be a big part of several key plays throughout the game. In the third quarter, she helped jump-start the Sparks' offensive flow continually by pushing the ball down court, resulting in an 8-2 L.A run. By the time the final period started, Seattle looked defeated, trailing 54-40.

But the Storm had one more rally in them, and Leslie wouldn't score another point in the game, and that's when Johnson really came through. Following a 10-0 Seattle run that cut L.A.'s lead to four points, 56-52, with 4½ minutes to play, Johnson penetrated inside, beating Seattle's Sue Bird on a spin move and sinking a layup despite also being surrounded by Jackson and 6-4 Tiffani Johnson. That was pretty risky, considering Temeka Johnson had just been whistled for her fifth personal foul just 28 seconds earlier.

WEST FINALS AT A GLANCE
The Sparks owned the Monarchs in the regular season, going 3-0 vs. the defending WNBA champs. L.A.'s Mwadi Mabika stole the show, averaging 22.3 ppg and shooting 58 percent (25-of-43) from the field in the series. Her seven 3-pointers in the first meeting tied the WNBA single-game record.

THE SERIES
DATE RESULT HIGH SCORER
June 18 Sparks 80, Monarchs 69 M. Mabika, L.A. (27)
June 23 Sparks 77, Monarch 63 M. Mabika, L.A. (24)
Aug. 9 Sparks 69, Monarchs 58 L. Leslie, L.A. (18); K. Lawson, Sac. (18)

Johnson tried to drive inside again less than two minutes later but Jackson wasn't having it, emphatically swatting the shot away for one of her three blocks of the quarter. But again, with Seattle's defense collapsing in the paint, Johnson responded by nailing a wide-open 17-foot jump shot just 14 seconds later.

Seattle cut the lead to one, 64-63, with 25 seconds to play on a hook by Jackson, but the Sparks went 4-for-6 at the free-throw line after that to clinch the win.

Johnson, who averaged eight points during the regular season, pulled out the "H" card (humility) when it came to talking about her impressive night. But Leslie sang her praises like a diva at the opera.

"She was awesome," said Leslie, who also finished with 14 points. "We talked about Game 2 and she was having a little ailing and her leg wasn't feeling good. She really prepared herself today.

"I knew she was ready this morning in shootaround. She just came out aggressive. I think we go as she goes. She really set the tone for us in the first quarter and that was the difference. We needed to play a much better first quarter and we did."

Admittedly, Johnson wasn't able to do much defensively against Seattle's Bird, who pumped in 15 points, including four 3-pointers. But Johnson helped hold Betty Lennox to only eight points.

On the other end, Bird -- who missed a shot that could have tied the score with 19 seconds left -- conceded that Johnson was hard to contain, too.

"She's so low to the ground," said the 5-9 Bird. "Some people can look at her height as a disadvantage, but the way she's able to penetrate -- I don't how she gets those layups up, but she does. You can't pick her, you just have to try and stay in front of her."

Added Seattle coach Anne Donovan: "She was great. She attacked off the dribble, she hit the open shot when they needed her to hit the open shot. There were a few lapses we had offensively -- one in particular off the ball screen. We just didn't get out on her at all and that one really hurt."

Now, Johnson is just two wins away from playing in the WNBA Finals.

"Of course it's exciting," she said. "I am happy to be here. I can't be too excited. I can only be excited for about 20 seconds because I have to start thinking about Sacramento now."

Miki Turner, a freelance TV producer and writer in Los Angeles, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.

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