PHOENIX (AP) - Their teammate lying on the floor, writhing in pain and her eye bleeding, the Phoenix Mercury could have charged forward or folded up into a shell.
Led by feisty two-time MVP Diana Taurasi, the Mercury weren't about to back down after Ketia Swanier wobbled off the court.
Sparked by Swanier's scary head injury late in the third quarter, the Mercury turned a big run into a huge one, running away from the Los Angeles Sparks for a 101-82 victory Tuesday night.
``When something like that happens, it can affect you in a way where it takes all your energy away or it can get you going a little bit, and I think it did that for us today,' said Taurasi, who had 20 points and seven assists.
Sluggish defensively in the first half, Phoenix clawed its way back early in the third quarter to take the lead, then had a tense few moments as Swanier was woozily helped off the court following an elbow to the head by Sparks guard Kristi Toliver.
With Taurasi giving Toliver an earful, the Mercury poured it on after Swanier's injury, turning a 10-point deficit into a 14-point lead on the way to their sixth win in seven games.
Candice Dupree had 20 points, Penny Taylor added 16 and Kara Braxton 14 for Phoenix, which pulled within a game of West-leading San Antonio after hitting 12 of 17 shots in the third quarter.
``It was a bad one to her eye; her eye was bleeding,' Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. ``Anytime you get hit in the eye, it's dangerous.'
The Sparks lost their spark after Swanier's injury.
Playing its second game without former league MVP Candace Parker, Los Angeles played a crisp offensive first half and limited Phoenix's chances on the break to build a sizable lead.
The Sparks got away from what got them there as Phoenix fought its way back in the third quarter, then fell apart with a series of technical fouls and ineffective play at both ends after Swanier's injury to remain winless (0-5) on the road this season.
``It was kind of like a spiral; we spiraled down from there,' said Ebony Hoffman, who led the Sparks with 21 points and eight rebounds. ``We didn't rebound from the flagrant foul and all the technicals we got. We weren't tough mentally today and that's sad to say with as many veterans as we have on this team. It's kind of inexcusable and I'm speechless at our effort today.'
Despite playing without Parker, who's expected to be out at least five more weeks with torn cartilage in her right knee, Los Angeles appeared to be in control after a solid first half. Moving the ball well against Phoenix's defense, the Sparks got plenty of good looks at the basket and got to the free-throw line - hitting 13 of 14 - to build a 50-42 lead that left Taurasi and the rest of the Mercury muttering and frustrated.
Phoenix trimmed the deficit quickly in the third quarter behind its defense, though, getting a few easy baskets in transition and 14 combined points from Taylor and Dupree to go up 65-63 with just over 3 minutes left.
Then it got ugly.
Playing defense in the lane, Swanier went down in a heap late in the third after being hit above the left eye by Toliver, who swung her arm while trying to protect the ball. Her eye bloodied, Swanier lay on the floor for several minutes writhing in pain, then had to be helped to the locker room.
Toliver was hit with a flagrant foul after initially being called for an offensive foul, and Sparks assistant Joe Bryant exacerbated the situation by arguing the call and was hit with a technical. Toliver also was called for a technical foul on another call a few minutes later.
Braxton hit two free throws in place of Swanier, Taurasi added another for Bryant's technical and the Mercury kept pouring it on, leading 79-65 after a 37-point third quarter. The Sparks never stood a chance after that.
``We lost our composure, that's the bottom line,' Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. ``It started with that (Swanier's injury), then it trickled down to our team and took us out of our game.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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