Sparks defeat Mercury to head back to WNBA finals

(TSX / STATS) -- Candace Parker scored 21 points, including a driving, left-handed layup with 2.9 seconds to play, to send the Los Angeles Sparks back to the WNBA Finals for the second straight season with a thrilling 89-87 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, Ariz.

The Sparks will face the Minnesota Lynx in a Finals rematch. Game 1 of the Finals is Sept. 24 in Minnesota.

Los Angeles led 83-74 with 2:32 to play, before Phoenix's Diana Taurasi fueled a late push by the Mercury. Taurasi hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including a contested three from the left wing that tied the score 87-87 with 10.8 seconds to play.

Los Angeles got the ball to Parker and cleared out on its next possession. Parker got into the lane and hit the winning layup, capping a brilliant performance from the Sparks' star forward.

Parker added 11 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks to go along with her 21 points. Odyssey Simms added 22 points for the Sparks, who have won 10 in a row.

Taurasi finished with 22 points, and Brittney Griner and Camille Little each added 18 points for the Mercury, who were eliminated in a three-game sweep.

The Sparks trailed 25-21 after the first quarter, but turned up the defensive intensity in the second quarter and held Phoenix to just 13 points. Jantel Lavender's 3-pointer sparked a 24-8 surge by Los Angeles to close out the first half and give the Sparks at 45-38 lead at halftime. Parker had eight assists in the first half.

The Mercury, facing elimination, rallied back in the third quarter and trailed by only one heading into the fourth, 63-62.

Sims opened the fourth quarter with seven quick points, including a 3-pointer, helping the Sparks extend their lead. Los Angeles guard Chelsea Gray knocked down a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 77-67 with 5:22 to play.

Updated September 17, 2017