Sparks 66

(24-10, 11-6 home)

    10:30 PM ET, September 8, 2003

    1 2 3 4 T
    SAC 32 31 63
    LA 38 28 66

    Sparks earn chance for threepeat

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Lisa Leslie's performance reminded Sacramento Monarchs coach John Whisenant of another Los Angeles basketball star.

    Nancy LiebermanSacramento was hindered by Edna Campbell's failure to score and the Monarchs' missed foul shots, but give Los Angeles credit -- the Sparks' backs were against the wall for the second series in a row, but L.A. rose to the occasion and came out on top. Sports are about making plays when you're supposed to, and the Sparks did just that.

    Lisa Leslie's ability to come up yet again in crunch time was the key. She remains one of the most efficient players in the half-court offense, and when L.A. needs a big bucket, they go to her time and again because the the odds are in their favor. After Sacramento tied the score at 62, Leslie scored four points in the final 9.8 seconds to clinch the win.

    Other than allowing L.A. an 11-0 run in the first half, the Monarchs played really good basketball and could have won this game despite an average performance from Yolanda Griffith. Had the three-time All-Star, former MVP and Olympian played like she did in Game 3 against Houston (27 points, 17 rebounds), L.A.'s quest for a threepeat would have ended Monday.

    With Campbell struggling -- she really needed to give Sacramento some perimeter scoring but never really played aggressive -- and Ticha Penicheiro hurt, a big performance from Griffith was imperative. But instead of putting her team on her back, as she has so far in the postseason, Griffith finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

    Sacramento also suffered from missing some clutch foul shots. The Monarchs, the worst free-throw shooting team in the league in the regular season, hit 17 of 19 to help them win Game 1 vs. L.A. But Monday, they were just 12 of 17, and those misses are the difference in a three-point loss.

    Sacramento rookie Kara Lawson was outstanding. Nobody wants to have to step in at point guard at this point of the season, but Lawson played 27 gutsy minutes and finished with 12 points, including a pair of free throws that tied the score at 52 and a 17-foot jumper that knotted the score at 62 with 32.5 seconds to play. She played as hard and as well as she could, and no one can ever question Lawson's intensity level and heart.
    -- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman

    "Lisa Leslie is the Shaquille O'Neal of the WNBA,'' Whisenant said. "She is a handful. She is both an offensive and defensive threat.''

    Leslie hit a short baseline jump shot with 9.8 seconds to go, then sank a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left as the Sparks beat the Sacramento Monarchs 66-63 Monday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

    "Those free throws were huge,'' she said. "I feel lucky to have made them considering how poorly we shot from the line (6-for-12) all night.''

    Leslie finished with 26 points for the two-time defending champion Sparks, who will host the Detroit Shock in the WNBA finals starting Friday night in a best-of-three series for the title.

    The coaches are former NBA opponents Bill Laimbeer of Detroit and Michael Cooper of Los Angeles. Cooper helped the Lakers beat Laimbeer and the Pistons for the NBA title in 1988. The next year, Detroit and Laimbeer beat Cooper and the Lakers for the first of its two straight titles.

    "The Sparks are here and we are the legitimate champions,'' Cooper said. "I feel very comfortable and confident and in a sense cocky that we will be the last team standing.''

    After Leslie's short jumper from the baseline made it 64-62, DeMya Walker pulled the Monarchs within a point by making the first of two free throws. But her miss of the second was rebounded by Leslie, who was fouled.

    After Leslie made both foul shots, Sacramento's Kara Lawson missed on 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

    Mwadi Mabika added 16 points for the Sparks. Nikki Teasley had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

    Walker scored 16 points to lead the Monarchs, who got 15 from Tangela Smith. Yolanda Griffith had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

    "It hurts, but we played Sacramento Monarchs basketball tonight,'' Griffith said of her team's second-half recovery from a 14-point deficit. "We'll learn from this. We know we're a great team, and we'll start off next season the way we ended this season.''

    Lawson tied the Western Conference championship game at 62 on a 17-foot jumper from the right wing with 32.5 seconds left.

    The Sparks called timeout, then set up Leslie on the right baseline, coming off a screen by Mabika. Leslie took a pass from Teasley on the right wing and made a 4-footer.

    "She got me the ball and I didn't have much room to make that shot,'' Leslie said. "I was actually behind the backboard when I got the ball.''

    Los Angeles won the battle of shooting percentages from the field, hitting 48.2 percent (27-for-56). Sacramento hit 43.6 percent of its field goal attempts (24-for-55).

    The Sparks put together a 12-4 run to open the second half and led 50-36 with 16:04 left. But the Monarchs went on a 16-2 run of their own, tying it at 52 on two free throws by Lawson with 8:37 to go.

    The Sparks took a 38-32 halftime lead on 50 percent (16-for-32) field goal shooting. Leslie had 15 points and 5 rebounds in the first 20 minutes.

    The Monarchs, patient in their half-court set, effectively shut down the Sparks' transition game in the early going.

    That changed when the Sparks' defense keyed an 11-0 run that produced a 22-12 lead at the midway point of the first half.

    Ticha Penicheiro, whose 16 points keyed Sacramento's 77-69 victory in Game 1 last Friday night, played only six minutes in last Sunday's Game 2 because of a bruised a rib.

    She received medication and was taped for Monday night's deciding game, but played just 17 minutes, scoring two points. Sacramento's other starting guard, Edna Campbell, failed to score and missed all three of her attempts from the field.

    The second game of the WNBA Finals will be in Detroit on Sunday. If a third game is necessary, it will be in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press