Taylor free throws lift Mercury over Sparks 78-77

PHOENIX (AP) — Penny Taylor hit two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to lift the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury to a 78-77 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in the league's season opener Saturday.

Taylor caught the ensuing long inbounds pass and held the ball until the buzzer.

Noelle Quinn had hit a 12-foot bank shot with 4.7 seconds left to give the Sparks a 77-76 lead after Phoenix's Diana Taurasi made two free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining.

Taurasi scored five of her 14 points in the final five minutes, Candice Dupree had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Taylor added 16 points.

Candace Parker scored 24 points for the Sparks, including a key basket in the final minute, and grabbed 12 rebounds.

The teams were tied at 70 with three minutes left, and Los Angeles took a 75-72 lead on Parker's leaner with 55 seconds left. Tameka Johnson's layup cut it to 75-74, and Parker missed a 16-footer with 24 seconds to go.

Tina Thompson fouled Taurasi 7 seconds later.

Rookie Andrea Riley scored 16 points and DeLisha Milton-Jones had 10 for Los Angeles.

Phoenix opened up a 10-point lead in the third quarter, but Los Angeles ran off nine straight points to keep it close. Parker scored eight in the period that ended tied at 61.

The Mercury finished the half on a 12-0 run to take a 42-35 lead at the break. Phoenix had to overcome a quick start by Parker, who made her first five shots and grabbed five rebounds in helping the Sparks lead 23-19 after the first quarter.

The Mercury received their championship rings before the game. They beat Los Angeles 2-1 in last season's Western Conference finals and topped Indiana 3-2 in the WNBA Finals for their second title in three years.