Sparks rally in series opener against Mercury

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Defending WNBA champion Sparks took the first game of the WNBA Western Conference finals series against the Phoenix

Fourteen years ago, a rivalry now overflowing with mutual respect took root in the first game that mattered between Alana Beard of Duke and Diana Taurasi of Connecticut, then college juniors and acquaintances since ninth grade.

Fast-forward, dozens of duels later, to Tuesday night at Staples Center. Moments after the Sparks’ Beard accepted the award for WNBA defensive player of the year, she and Phoenix’s Taurasi squared off again, this time in the first game of a best-of-five semifinal series.

Beard induced an airball on Taurasi’s first shot, a harbinger of the Sparks’ 79-66 triumph over the Mercury.

Mostly matched up against Taurasi, Beard helped limit her to six points, vastly below an average of 18.5, with as many baskets (two) as airballs.

“One of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen,” Taurasi said of Beard. “She just competes on every play and gives you different looks. No one deserves that award more.”

Beard summoned enough energy in between chasing Taurasi to account for 11 points, four higher than her norm. She too launched an airball with Taurasi’s hand in the line of sight, but it was her lone errant try.

“I’ve been playing against her for a long time,” Beard wrote of Taurasi on the Players’ Tribune website, “but no matter how many times I’ve faced her, it doesn’t get any easier.”

Elaborating Tuesday, Beard said, “She continues to get better. It’s her work ethic, her attention to detail.”

Informed of the article, Taurasi smiled and said, “She might change her mind after tonight. I just played like crap. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello, while noting surprise at learning that Beard’s league-wide defensive laurel was her first, attributed Taurasi’s dreadful night in part to tired legs from enduring three postseason games in as many cities over five nights.

“And we’ve got to try and help her get open too,” Brondello said.

Beard draws no extra motivation from following Taurasi in the 2004 draft, when they were selected first and second. A fresher memory drives her.

“In 2010, I was told I might never play again,” she said, alluding to a trove of injuries that threatened her career. “I don’t like being told what I can’t do.”

The Sparks withstood 18 points from scoring champion Brittney Griner, who eventually began hacking more than scoring and fouled out after logging only 29 minutes.

With Griner out of the equation, the Sparks broke out of a halftime tie and built their most substantial lead just before the final buzzer.

A Hall & Oates concert has dibs on Staples Center on Thursdsay, so the series detours to Long Beach State for Game 2.

In Game 1 of the other semifinal series, Seimone Augustus scored 24 points to help the Minnesota Lynx beat the Washington Mystics 101-81.

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The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the latest developments in the Aaron Donald situation as the Rams prepare for Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, plus two players sign contract extensions and a look back at a dominant victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the opener. 

The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the latest developments in the Aaron Donald situation as the Rams prepare for Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, plus two players sign contract extensions and a look back at a dominant victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the opener. 

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The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the latest developments in the Aaron Donald situation as the Rams prepare for Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, plus two players sign contract extensions and a look back at a dominant victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the opener. 

The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the latest developments in the Aaron Donald situation as the Rams prepare for Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, plus two players sign contract extensions and a look back at a dominant victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the opener. 

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ABOUT THE SERIES

Two of the most dominant boxers in the world are set to square off on September 16 – Canelo Alvarez, the young superstar and pride of Mexican boxing,  against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, the current unified middleweight world champion who hails from Kazakhstan. The fight, two years in the making, promises to be one of the most important matches in boxing’s history, with fans and followers expecting the hype of Mayweather-Pacquiao but with explosive results to back it up.

Covering the whole story is Lance Pugmire, award-winning boxing writer for The Los Angeles Times. Pound for Pound with Lance Pugmire will follow Pugmire, Canelo, and GGG in the run up to Sept. 16 – from the pre-fight media coverage, to exclusive interviews, training, the weigh-in and the post-fight madness. This series will be shot with a true behind-the-scenes feel. With access only The Los Angeles Times can provide, Pound for Pound promises to bring fight fans from around the world an inside look at the making of one of the biggest boxing matches ever, in real time, as it unfolds. 

ABOUT THE SERIES

Two of the most dominant boxers in the world are set to square off on September 16 – Canelo Alvarez, the young superstar and pride of Mexican boxing,  against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, the current unified middleweight world champion who hails from Kazakhstan. The fight, two years in the making, promises to be one of the most important matches in boxing’s history, with fans and followers expecting the hype of Mayweather-Pacquiao but with explosive results to back it up.

Covering the whole story is Lance Pugmire, award-winning boxing writer for The Los Angeles Times. Pound for Pound with Lance Pugmire will follow Pugmire, Canelo, and GGG in the run up to Sept. 16 – from the pre-fight media coverage, to exclusive interviews, training, the weigh-in and the post-fight madness. This series will be shot with a true behind-the-scenes feel. With access only The Los Angeles Times can provide, Pound for Pound promises to bring fight fans from around the world an inside look at the making of one of the biggest boxing matches ever, in real time, as it unfolds. 

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The Times' Bill Plaschke, Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry break down the Rams' 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a season opener on Sunday at the Coliseum.

The Times' Bill Plaschke, Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry break down the Rams' 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a season opener on Sunday at the Coliseum.

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Meet Ellen Kershaw, the wife of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, and the driving force behind the couple's charity, "Kershaw's Challenge." 

Meet Ellen Kershaw, the wife of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, and the driving force behind the couple's charity, "Kershaw's Challenge." 

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The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the return of Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald and preview their opener against the Colts. 

The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss the return of Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald and preview their opener against the Colts. 

sports@latimes.com

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Article Sparks rally in series opener against Mercury compiled by Original article here

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