SAN ANTONIO -- When he became coach of the San Antonio Silver Stars and directed a team that won seven games his first year, Dan Hughes didn’t have far to look for the role model to build a championship team.
“My role was right outside my back door,” Hughes said. “You had the Spurs sitting here. And the things they represented just reinforced in me that even when we won seven games, you know what, keep going, keep going, keep going.”
Just as the Spurs played for a championship not long after Tim Duncan joined the team, the Silver Stars’ fortunes changed when Becky Hammon came on board.
Hammon scored 35 points, making four free throws in the final 36 seconds, and the Silver Stars advanced to their first WNBA finals with a 76-72 victory over the Sparks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
“We were lucky to get people, and now I’ve got people anybody could coach,” Hughes said.
Hammon’s 35 points tied for second in WNBA playoff history with the Sparks’ Lisa Leslie, behind Tamika Whitmore’s 41 points two years ago while she was playing for Indiana.
The Sparks had a 72-67 lead when Temeka Johnson made two free throws with 1:57 left in the game, but Hammon tied it on a three-point basket with 1:03 left and followed with her big free throws.
“We come back when things seem impossible,” Hammon said.
After Hammon’s three-pointer, the Sparks lost the ball the next trip down the court when DeLisha Milton-Jones, who joined Candace Parker to lead the Sparks with 16 points, was called for an offensive foul.
The Sparks, who had an eight-point lead in the third quarter, missed their final three shots, going the final 2:16 without a basket.
“I thought our inability to hit key shots during the course of the game was key for us,” Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. “When we needed a basket, we couldn’t get it.”
The best-of-five finals will start Wednesday in San Antonio. The opponent will be determined today when the Detroit Shock faces the New York Liberty in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.