LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Sparks are moving on for the
first time in three years.
Lisa Leslie and Temeka Johnson scored 14 points each, helping
the Sparks outlast the Seattle Storm 68-63 Tuesday night in the
deciding game of their WNBA playoff series.
"We did it with defense and making free throws down the
stretch," Los Angeles coach Joe Bryant said.
The top-seeded Sparks won the last two games of the best-of-3
series and will face Sacramento in the Western Conference finals
With her husband cheering courtside through a small yellow
megaphone, Leslie grabbed eight rebounds. Johnson had six assists
and fearlessly drove the lane against Seattle's 6-foot-5 duo of
Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse.
"She really took it to another level with her penetration,"
Bryant said. "We've been talking to her over the course of the
year about creating tempo, and she did a great job."
Mawadi Mabika added 11 points before fouling out with 2:05 to
In their huddles, Bryant, Leslie and Mabika mentioned the team's
"We just didn't want that to happen again," he said.
Jackson had 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead fourth-seeded
Seattle, which lost in the first round for the second straight
Sue Bird added 15 points while wearing a clear face mask to
protect a bruised nose she sustained Sunday in Game 2.
"I can't really say anything bad about it because it allows me
to play," she said, "but it does take some adjusting to."
Bird missed two huge jumpers in the final minute, including one
with Leslie in her face.
"I got a very good look, a look that will haunt me for a very
long time, probably until next season," she said.
Seattle shot a woeful 30 percent from the floor -- its worst
effort of the series.
"We don't shoot the ball very poorly that often," Storm coach
Anne Donovan said. "Our fourth-quarter zone defense really clicked
in, then they started shrinking in a little bit and we just could
not hit the outside shot."
Betty Lennox, who had eight points, seven assists and six
rebounds, missed a 3-pointer for the Storm with 8 seconds left.
The Sparks grabbed the rebound and Jessica Moore got fouled. She
made both free throws to seal the win, which Leslie celebrated by
heaving the ball to the opposite end of the court.
"We're out of the first round. It was a tough fight," Leslie
said. "In the fourth quarter, when we were ahead by 10, we really
just didn't take care of the ball well. We got a little stagnant in
our offense, kind of didn't know what to run."
Leslie picked up her third foul early in the fourth, which
started with the Sparks ahead by 14 points.
Seattle responded with 10 straight points, including consecutive
3-pointers by Bird and Jackson to get within four with 3:17 left.
"We knew we right there," Jackson said. "We made some silly
mistakes during that quarter, some that probably stopped us from
winning the game."
Jackson blocked Leslie and as the ball fell away, Tiffani
Johnson picked it up and passed to a streaking Iziane Castro
Marques, who made the layup, putting the Storm within two.
Temeka Johnson hit a 17-footer that kept the Sparks ahead 62-58
with 2½ minutes remaining.
Mabika's sixth foul sent Jackson to the floor hard on her back,
but she got up and made both free throws, and the Storm trailed
Out of a jump ball, Jackson got the ball to Bird, who sprinted
toward the basket and missed the layup. She was fouled and made 1
of 2 free throws to trail by one.
Bird missed a 3-pointer with under a minute to go, then a
tightly guarded Moore missed a 7-foot in the lane for the Sparks
with 31 seconds to go.
After a timeout, Jackson slung the ball toward the basket and
scored to put Seattle within one with 25 seconds left, but the
Storm wouldn't score again.
"We're not built to where we're going to beat people by 20,"
Bryant said. "I told them, `Even if we don't score another basket
during the second half, you stop them from scoring.' That's what
you hang your hat on. The bottom line was to really play defense,
and make them earn every point."
Sparks forward Chamique Holdsclaw was relegated to chewing gum
on the bench because of a left foot injury. She led the team in
rebounding in its Game 1 loss, then was limited to two minutes
Sunday when the Sparks tied the series.
The Storm got within four points at the start of the third
quarter, when they struggled offensively for the second straight
game. They managed 13 points in the period, two fewer than in Game
Los Angeles, meanwhile, built a 14-point lead on the shooting of
Leslie and Mabika, who combined to score 15 of the team's 20
points. Lisa Willis sent the crowd into a frenzy by hitting a
3-pointer with 2 seconds to go in the third.