Sparks 61

(25-9, 10-7 away)

    Coverage: NBATV

    10:00 PM ET, August 24, 2006

    1 2 3 4 T
    LA 11 14 18 1861
    SAC 13 10 18 2364

    Top Performers

    Los Angeles: M. Mabika 23 Pts, 2 Reb, 2 Stl

    Sacramento: Y. Griffith 18 Pts, 6 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl

    Late 3s help Monarchs neutralize Sparks in Game 1

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Kara Lawson could feel the Sacramento Monarchs' season slipping away through three terrible quarters.

    Yet after a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback, the Monarchs' emotional leader felt their championship drive was in better shape than ever.

    Yolanda Griffith scored 18 points and hit the go-ahead layup with 10.3 seconds left in the Monarchs' 64-61 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 1 of the WNBA's Western Conference finals on Thursday night.

    Nicole Powell scored 17 points and Lawson hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 48 seconds left for the defending league champion Monarchs, who rallied from a nine-point deficit late in the third quarter of a physical opener to their fourth straight trip to the conference finals.

    "We turned the ball over. We weren't clicking offensively. They dominated us at times on the boards," Lawson said. "There were a lot of reasons for us to lose, but we didn't give in. We kept grinding."

    Indeed, it wasn't pretty for either of these longtime rivals. Sacramento was outplayed for much of the night while getting just three points from its vaunted bench, and the Sparks -- who couldn't score a point in the first 5:55 -- were perhaps two good fourth-quarter possessions away from a win.

    But the Monarchs hit one clutch shot after another, and now Sacramento has two chances at one victory to earn a return to the WNBA Finals.

    "I really thought my team showed determination, character, courage, whatever you want to call it," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said. "We needed this one badly."

    Sacramento couldn't replicate its two outstanding performances in a first-round sweep of Houston, but still shook off three poor quarters with a remarkable rally against top-seeded Los Angeles and Mwadi Mabika, who nearly carried the Sparks to victory with 23 points.

    Lisa Leslie had 11 rebounds but just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting for Los Angeles, which led throughout the second half until Powell hit her third 3-pointer with 4:17 left to tie it at 51.

    Temeka Johnson, who scored 14 points, made two tough layups for the Sparks, but Sacramento tied it again on Ticha Penicheiro's 3-pointer. The Monarchs went ahead on a 3-pointer by Lawson, who scored 13 points on a poor shooting night.

    Mabika tied it at 61 on a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left, but the Monarchs ran down the clock until Griffith scored over two defenders on a pass from Lawson. Johnson missed a tough layup on the other end, and Lawson hit one free throw with 3.1 seconds left.

    Lisa Willis missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Monarchs hit the road for Game 2 on Saturday night -- which will be played in Anaheim while an American Idol-related concert takes over Staples Center.

    Ticha Penicheiro

    Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    Ticha Penicheiro hit a key 3 down the stretch to fuel the Monarchs.

    "Sacramento did what it was supposed to do, and now we have a chance to go home and hopefully make our shots this time," Leslie said. "We learned from the first(-round) series against Seattle that it can be done. It just takes composure."

    If necessary, Game 3 will be Sunday at Staples Center -- and the Sparks must replicate their two first-round home victories over Seattle to get to the WNBA Finals.

    "We're in Sacramento, (and) this is the toughest place to win," Sparks coach Joe Bryant said. "This is a jungle in here. They're the defending champs. That's why we fought all year for homecourt advantage, so we wouldn't have to play here twice."

    Chamique Holdsclaw sat out with a foot injury, leaving the Sparks without their second-leading scorer essentially for the third straight game. Holdsclaw played 2 minutes in Game 2 of Los Angeles' first-round series with Seattle, then sat out Game 3.

    But the Sparks got a remarkable game from Mabika, who has played for Los Angeles in every season of the WNBA's existence. She made a series of difficult outside shots in the second half, seemingly getting points whenever the Monarchs got close.

    "She killed me," said Penicheiro, one of the WNBA's top defenders. "It's frustrating. You play your best defense, and she still keeps making them. The shots she made, I was right there. She shot it right in my eye."

    The teams are meeting in their fourth straight postseason, with the Monarchs eliminating Los Angeles in the first round in 2004 and 2005.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

      Los Angeles Sacramento
    Points 61 64
    FG Made-Attempted 22-60 (.000) 23-60 (.000)
    3P Made-Attempted 7-14 (.500) 6-17 (.353)
    FT Made-Attempted 10-12 (.000) 12-21 (.000)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 9-29 12-35
    Assists 11 18
    Turnovers 10 13
    Steals 9 8
    Blocks 3 1
    Fast Break Points 2 6
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 20 (0/0) 16 (0/0)