Candace Parker hobbled into the postgame press conference with ice bags over both knees and slung over her left shoulder. But soreness was a small price to pay for a return trip to the WNBA Finals.
Parker drove for a layup with 2.9 seconds left, giving the Los Angeles Sparks an 89-87 win and three-game sweep of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA semifinals Sunday.
Parker, a two-time league most valuable player, finished with 21 points and 11 assists.
The Mercury’s Brittney Griner missed a shot as time expired and the Sparks celebrated with shouts and embraces in front of their bench.
“In Sparks fashion, we made things interesting down the stretch,” Parker said. “They jumped, and I just saw the lane and took it to the basket.”
Odyssey Sims scored 22 points on nine-of-12 shooting, tying a playoff career high. Chelsea Gray added 14 points for the defending champion Sparks, who advanced to their second straight WNBA Finals and fifth overall. They will face Minnesota in a rematch of last year’s championship, after the Lynx completed a sweep of Washington earlier Sunday.
“We know that there’s a lot of good teams in this league, so to be one of the final two standing, we feel like we’re worthy of that, but we also feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go play,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said.
Diana Taurasi had tied the game at 87 with a three-pointer from the wing with 10.8 seconds left.
After a timeout, Parker scored the go-ahead basket.
Taurasi’s 22 points led the Mercury while Griner added 18. Griner made only seven of 23 shots for the game.
“Tough day for me,” she said. “We kept getting good looks, I just wasn’t finishing them.”
Sims sank a pair of free throws with 14.1 seconds left before Taurasi’s shot tied it.
The Sparks won all six regular-season and postseason meetins with the Mercury.
“Look, they’re defending champs for a reason,” Taurasi said. “They make you pay anytime you make a mistake. That’s the quality of players they have on that team right now.”
The Sparks trailed by as many as 11 points in the first quarter after Little’s three-pointer with 3:43 left, part of her 12 points in the opening 10 minutes.
The Mercury’s 30-21 lead in the second quarter disappeared with a pair of Parker steals, two free throws and a nifty assist to Sims for a layup, and Los Angeles took its largest lead of the half, 43-35, on Alana Beard’s jumper 36.3 seconds before halftime.
“I just take what the defense gives us,” Sims said. “Every game we executed a little bit more.”