Leslie had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Candace Parker scored 22 points and keyed a second-quarter run that led the Los Angeles Sparks over the Seattle Storm 75-64 Sunday in the deciding third game of the WNBA Western Conference semifinals.
"I woke up this morning and I just knew I didn't want to end my career here," said Leslie, the three-time MVP and four-time Olympic gold medalist who said prior to the season that this would her last year. "I just said, 'This can't be my last game."'
It won't be.
The Sparks advanced to face the Phoenix-San Antonio winner for the conference championship. The Mercury and Silver Stars play Game 3 Monday night in Phoenix.
Parker scored six points during an early 13-0 burst that gave the Sparks a big cushion. Tina Thompson had 12 points for the Sparks, who were just as effective at the defensive end. Los Angeles limited Seattle to 32.8 percent shooting (21 of 64).
"Our help defense was much better tonight," Leslie said. "Overall, I think just knowing personnel and having to play a team three times, you kind of figure out what everyone's tendencies are, more than anything else."
Added Sparks coach Michael Cooper, "In the first quarter, I thought we came out real focused on defense and what we wanted to accomplish. We forced them to take some tough shots and kept them on the perimeter, took away the inside game."
Seattle coach Brian Agler agreed. The Storm missed their first seven shots of the game, shot just 6 of 30 (20 percent) during the first half and were bounced in the first round for the fifth straight time since winning the league championship in 2004.
"I thought LA did a good job of congesting the lane on us," Agler said. "They challenged a lot of shots without fouling, and for whatever reason, those shots that went down before didn't go down tonight."
Swin Cash led Seattle with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Sue Bird had 15 points for the Storm, who trimmed a 20-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter down to nine inside the final minute.
Just as they did in last Wednesday's series-opening 70-63 victory in Los Angeles, the Sparks led from start to finish, by as many as 18 during the first half and 21 during the second.
"We didn't stop fighting," said Bird, who played a big role in Friday's comeback victory with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. "We knew we had cut it to nine or 10, and we had a chance."
The loss ended the career of Seattle guard Shannon Johnson, who announced her retirement last Friday after 10 WNBA seasons and a spot on the 2004 U.S. gold medal Olympic team.