Sun, Sparks advance to WNBA conference finals
EWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Kara Lawson didn't get discouraged after missing some 3-point shots she felt she should have made. She knew she would hit some if she kept shooting.
Tina Charles had 25 points and 14 rebounds and Lawson scored 15 points -- all on 3s, including two late in the fourth quarter -- as the Connecticut Sun closed with a 14-0 run to beat the New York Liberty 75-62 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
''I had some looks in the second half and I was missing them. I don't usually miss those,'' Lawson said. ''I kept telling them on the bench 'there's one coming.' I didn't know there were two coming.''
Lawson hit a 3 with 3:58 left start the Sun's game-ending run. She was fouled and converted the free throw for the four-point play that put the Sun ahead for good, 65-62.
Plenette Pierson had just rallied New York from a five-point deficit, scoring with 4:20 left to put the Liberty ahead 62-61.
After Jones hit a jumper with just under 3 minutes remaining to push Connecticut's advantage to six, Lawson made another 3 to make it 70-62.
Asjha Jones scored 18 points to help the Sun complete the two-game sweep.
''When it was time to step up all of the best players stepped up tonight,'' Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. ''Our three All-Star players stepped up. It was terrific, but we had great performances from a lot of people. It was as ugly start that you can get that nobody would like to watch, but one of the best things about this team is we hung in there on the road.''
Thibault kept reminding his team about the importance of rebounding. The Sun allowed New York 17 offensive rebounds in the series opener in Connecticut on Thursday night. They outrebounded the Liberty 44-28 in Game 2.
''Point of emphasis from Coach,'' Lawson said, ''and Tina gets 14 rebounds.''
Thibault added: ''If you really want to know why Tina is the MVP of the league, just watch a tape of the second half.''
The Sun will next face the winner of the Atlanta-Indiana series, which the Dream lead 1-0 heading into Sunday's game at home. Connecticut hadn't won a playoff series since 2006, when they defeated Washington in the East semifinals to advance.
Cappie Pondexter scored 20 points to lead New York.
''They are a great team and played well all year,'' Pondexter said. ''Tina, the MVP of the league, played outstanding. Asjha made key buckets in the third quarter that gave them a run.''
New York scored the game's first 12 points and Connecticut missed its first 12 shots from the field. The Sun's first points came on Jones' two free throws with 5:27 remaining in the first period.
The Liberty led by 16 in the second before Connecticut used a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 27-25.
New York led 33-27 at halftime, holding Connecticut to 29 percent shooting (10-for-34).
The Liberty scored the first four points of the third quarter to extend the lead to 10 points.
However, the Sun used a 17-6 run, capped by Jones' turnaround bank shot, to take their first lead - 44-43 - with 5:12 left in the third. Jones scored 12 in the period.
''We started out well, strong, a lot of energy,'' Pondexter said. ''They made adjustments at halftime and I think the depth that they had wore on us.''
Essence Carson scored with 8.6 seconds to go in the period to give the Liberty a 52-50 lead after three.
''They have a lot of good players and they are very hard to guard,'' New York coach John Whisenant said.
Renee Montgomery hit a 3 for Connecticut with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Connecticut a 55-52 lead.
''I'm really proud of our team,'' Jones said. ''It would have been easy to fold early. Their defense was smothering. What a difference a year makes. We stayed with it.''
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Candace Parker was sickened after watching a video of Los Angeles' previous playoff loss to San Antonio, so she was determined not to let it happen to the Sparks again.
Parker scored 32 points and Los Angeles beat the Silver Stars 101-94 Saturday to complete a sweep of their Western Conference semifinals series.
Sophia Young had 23 points for San Antonio, which took three of four from Los Angeles during the regular season and lost the series opener 93-86 in Los Angeles on Thursday night. Jia Perkins added 16 points, Becky Hammon had 15, Danielle Adams 12 and Shameka Christon 11.
Los Angeles will face the winner of the other West series, which defending champion Minnesota leads 1-0 heading into Sunday's game at Seattle.
The Sparks advanced after surviving a furious comeback in the fourth quarter by the Silver Stars, who were forced to play at the Freeman Coliseum due to a concert at the AT&T Center.
The rally was reminiscent of Game 2 of the 2008 Western Conference Finals, when Young's jumper with .6 seconds left gave the Silver Stars a one-point win en route to the team's only berth in the WNBA Finals. Parker watched video of that loss Friday on the team's flight to San Antonio.
''On the flight I got sick, like sick to my stomach,'' Parker said. ''I will never forget that. Today it wasn't necessarily a shot, but it was going through my head as they made their run. This would be a historic comeback for them if they beat us and we had to go back to L.A. to play. It came down a couple of possessions and we were able to capitalize.''
Kristi Toliver added 23 points, Alana Beard had 17 and DeLisha Milton-Jones 10 for the Sparks.
Milton-Jones' three-point play completed a 15-2 run by the Sparks for a 73-51 lead with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
''We got out and ran,'' Toliver said. ''We got stops and we tried to win the battle of the boards and get out and run to get those easy possessions. We didn't want to settle for jump shots, we wanted to be aggressive and get good shots.''
San Antonio outscored Los Angeles 28-19 in the final quarter, but the Sparks went 7 for 8 on free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal the victory.
After trailing by 22 points, the Silver Stars used a smaller lineup at the start of the fourth quarter. The team responded with a 13-0 run to bridge the third and fourth quarters.
''I decided to play small ball,'' Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. ''I wanted the element of spreading the floor at that point. We had been trying to do that scheme (earlier), but we had better quickness on the floor. . . I just wish I had gone to that small lineup earlier.''
Perkins and Christon each hit a 3-pointer during the run to pull San Antonio to 82-74 with 8 minutes left. Christon added another 3 and made a pair of free throws to forge a 90-all tie with 3 minutes left in the game.
The Silver Stars had opportunities to take the lead, but Hammon had a 3-pointer go in and out of the basket and Danielle Robinson had a jumper roll around the rim before dropping off.
''They always say football is a game of inches, sometimes basketball is a game of inches,'' Hammon said. ''We knock down a shot and all of a sudden the weight of the world is on their shoulders, but we didn't get them to relinquish that lead. We tied it, but we never took that lead. Sometimes, just mentally (losing a big lead) can be so depleting.''
But the Sparks responded by rebounding shots by Hammon and Robinson and turning them into free throws after the Silver Stars were forced to foul.
Nneka Ogwumike's jumper and two free throws by Parker gave Los Angeles the lead for good, at 94-90.
''At some point we knew San Antonio was going to make their run,'' Toliver said. ''They are too good of a team not to. They knew their season was on the line and they acted like it. They responded to adversity and we did the same thing right back. We didn't fold, we didn't get too down on ourselves. We just had to remind ourselves that we still had the lead.''
The Sparks' defense spurred a 12-0 run beginning early in the first quarter.
The Silver Stars went on a 6-0 run at the close of the first to pull to 23-16, but Toliver calmly made a 3-pointer over Adams with 2.6 seconds left to extend the lead to 26-16.
Parker scored 10 points in the first quarter.
The Silver Stars were forced out of the AT&T Center due to a sold-out concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and into the Freeman Coliseum. Game officials had to use an air horn during timeouts and there were no video screens available for the public.
''I don't want to make excuses, they played under the same conditions,'' Hammon said. ''The one thing I will say, as shooters, the lighting is very dark in there. We definitely would have liked to play in the AT&T Center. It wasn't what cost us the game, but it would have been nice. We worked all season for the most important game and it would have been nice to be at home.''
Neither game in the series was played at the teams' usual arena, as the opener in Los Angeles was played at USC's Galen Center due to a ''Batman Live'' show at Staples Center.
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