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Parker’s 31 points help Sparks hold on

Times Staff Writer

The Sparks drew a line in the sand Sunday night against the Phoenix Mercury, bending but not breaking in the final quarter.

Their 20-point lead was whittled to seven with just under four minutes remaining, causing many in the crowd of 10,004 to fidget in their seats at Staples Center.

The Sparks slammed the door, however, getting key points down the stretch from former Tennessee standouts Candace Parker, Shannon Bobbitt and Sidney Spencer, allowing them to hang on for a 91-80 victory and end a three-game losing streak.

“That’s progress, without a doubt,” said Sparks center Lisa Leslie, who finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. “We have to continue to find ways to win in the fourth quarter.”

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The Sparks (11-6) had blown two double-digit fourth-quarter leads in the previous week and let an 18-point fourth-quarter advantage melt away in a 99-94 loss to Phoenix in their home debut May 17.

Coach Michael Cooper tweaked the starting lineup again, partly to give the team a boost and partly because starting small forward DeLisha Milton-Jones was scratched about 15 minutes before the start because of a sore Achilles’ tendon.

Marie Ferdinand-Harris returned to her starting role at shooting guard and Spencer stepped into Milton-Jones’ starting spot. Bobbitt, a rookie, also started at point guard for the second straight game. She may have secured the role for now after scoring a season-high 11 points and distributing five assists in 31 minutes of play.

“It wasn’t happening for her on the bench, so the best place for her to be is out there on the floor,” Cooper said. “Sometimes, you have to let her learn by her mistakes, but still, she makes good mistakes.”

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Parker, a teammate of Bobbitt’s at Tennessee last season, also had one of her better games as a professional, totaling 31 points and 10 rebounds. Working their high-low post offense to near perfection, Parker and Leslie helped the Sparks build a 19-point lead after three quarters.

“With she and I able to pass well from the post, I just told her, ‘We’ve got to start looking for each other more,’ ” said Leslie, who turns 36 today.

Mercury forward Diana Taurasi, who came into the game leading the league in scoring at 24.9 points a game, did not score her first point until hitting a three-point shot on the team’s first possession of the fourth quarter.

That spearheaded a 15-2 run that allowed Phoenix (8-9) to cut the deficit to 79-72 with 3 minutes 50 seconds remaining. Parker hit two free throws, Bobbitt later followed with a three-point basket from the baseline, and Spencer knocked down a three-pointer from the opposite side, pushing the lead back to 11 with 1:45 remaining.

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dan.arritt@latimes.com


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