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Mercury spoil Parker's home debut with 85-79 win

The scene was set for a dazzling Hollywood premiere, but the Phoenix Mercury didn't want to play their part.

Diana Taurasi scored 13 of her 29 points in the fourth quarter, Cappie Pondexter scored 28 and the Mercury spoiled rookie Candace Parker's Los Angeles debut and the Sparks' home opener with an 85-79 win Friday night.

The defending WNBA champion Mercury (2-4) overcame an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit and avenged a season-opening loss to the Sparks (4-2) in which Parker scored 34 in her WNBA debut on the day of the Mercury's ring ceremony.

"It felt great," said Pondexter, the league's leading scorer. "We showed what our team is all about today. It looked like it was over in the third quarter and L.A. got a little lax. We came out focused and intent."

Parker, who the Sparks selected with the first overall pick in the WNBA draft the morning after she led Tennessee to its second straight national title, had 19 points and 14 rebounds in this game.

Teammate and three-time league MVP Lisa Leslie, making her return to Staples Center after a year off to have a baby, had 17 points and 15 rebounds. DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 16.

Le'coe Willingham added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Phoenix.

"It was a playoff atmosphere, just like the time we played Phoenix down there," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "This team showed you what championship heart is all about. When the game was on the line, they rolled up their sleeves and got after it."

The Sparks, who had seemingly put the game away by the end of the third quarter, had another sloppy fourth quarter marked by turnovers and fouls.

"It's been a problem for us the last couple games," Parker said. "When they went on that run we were back on our heels. Phoenix wanted it more."

Leslie struggled to understand why the Sparks couldn't close. On Tuesday night in Chicago the Sparks blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead and needed overtime to beat the Sky.

"I don't think we intentionally put it on cruise control, I don't know what it is," said Leslie. "It wasn't about Xs and Os, it was about effort."

Taurasi took over midway through the final quarter. She pulled the Mercury to 71-62 with a three-point play with 7:12 remaining. She later made a free throw, a layup and a jumper to pull the Mercury within two with 3:14 to go.

Pondexter then tied it at 74 with a layup, and Tauarsi soon after made a jumper followed by a 3 with 1:21 to go to put Phoenix up seven.

It was a rare strong night for the Mercury, who have struggled in the early part of the season.

"You know it really doesn't mean much in the big picture, it's just another game," Taurasi said. "We played better as a team and got down 18 early and we found a way to get back in it. In the last 2 minutes we made shots, and it determined the game."

The Sparks closed the third quarter with an 18-5 run that gave them a 16-point lead.

Parker made four straight free throws for a double-digit lead and followed the last with a steal and layup to put Los Angeles up 61-49 with 3:27 to play in the quarter.

Leslie's three-point play made it 64-49. Pondexter made a 3-pointer for Phoenix but Leslie immediately answered with a 3 of her own to keep the lead 15. Rafaella Masciadri made a jumper in the final seconds of the quarter to put the Sparks up 69-53.

Masciadri finished with 15 points.

The Sparks led 20-14 after a first quarter that featured nine points from Milton-Jones, and stayed ahead throughout the second.

Parker put Los Angeles up 39-31 after a short bank shot, and later put the Sparks up 42-36 with a three-point play with 1:20 to go, but they couldn't pull away despite 7-for-19 shooting and 1-for-10 from behind the arc from Phoenix in the half.

Pondexter made one of two free throws with 6.1 seconds left in the half to bring the Mercury to 42-39 at halftime.