WNBA Playoffs: Sparks rally to beat Phoenix 79-66 in WNBA playoff opener

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nneka Ogwumike scored 19 points to lead five starters in double figures, and the Los Angeles Sparks opened defense of their WNBA championship with a 79-66 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the semifinals.

Candace Parker added 15 points while playing with five fouls. Ogwumike overcame four fouls. Chelsea Gray had 13 points, Odyssey Sims 12 and Alana Beard 11.

Leilani Mitchell led the Mercury with 19 points and made five 3-pointers, both career playoff highs. Brittney Griner added 18 points before fouling out with 4:44 left in the game. Diana Taurasi went 2 of 10 from the floor for a career playoff low six points.

After trailing much of the first half, the Sparks pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Phoenix 14-6 to lead 56-48.

Things got testy with 28 seconds left in the period. Phoenix’s Emma Cannon and the Sparks’ Essence Carson were called for double technicals after exchanging words. Before that, Phoenix’s Camille Little was called for a blocking foul, with Parker on the floor with her legs in the air and her arms protecting her face.


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Seimone Augustus scored 24 points and Sylvia Fowles added 18 to help the Lynx roll to a victory over the Mystics in Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals.

Augustus made 11 of 17 shots and the Lynx looked plenty sharp after a week off and playing in an unfamiliar arena. The Lynx will play all of their playoff games at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena after playing the regular season at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

Elena Delle Donne had 17 points for the Mystics, who had a quick turnaround after beating the Liberty in New York on Sunday. After setting a playoff record with nine 3-pointers in the victory over New York on Sunday, Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting.


NEW YORK (AP) — Alana Beard of the Los Angeles Sparks has been named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in her 12-year career.

The guard-forward was named on 28 ballots from a national panel of 40 sports writers and broadcasters in voting announced Tuesday. She joined two-time winner Lisa Leslie as the second Sparks player to earn the honor. Leslie won in 2004 and ’08.

Beard led the league in steals for the first time, averaging 2.09 while starting all 34 regular-season games for the defending league champions. She averaged 6.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists this season, while shooting a career-high 50 percent from the field.

Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx, a three-time winner, finished second with five votes. Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, a two-time winner, was third with four votes. Beard’s teammate, Candace Parker, earned two votes. Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun received one vote.

Beard will receive $5,000 and a Tiffany trophy.

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