UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Candace Parker put on a show in her All-Star debut.
Parker scored a record 23 points to lead the West to a 102-98 victory over the East on Saturday.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” the former University of Tennessee All-American said. “I hadn’t been to one, and this was really special. Being with all these great players and share stories, that’s what I’ll remember from this All-Star game more than what happened on the court.”
The Los Angeles Sparks star was voted a starter for the 2011 game, but couldn’t play because of a knee injury. She also missed the 2009 game because she was still recovering from the birth of her daughter.
“Things happen,” Parker said. “I learned not to question them and go on my path and take whatever comes. It happened to work out this way.”
The wait was worth it as Parker, who earned the game’s MVP honors.
While the award was special, Parker and her West teammates were more excited they got the victory for retiring star Tina Thompson.
“We didn’t want her to go out with a loss,” said Parker, who quickly headed back to Los Angeles after the game to get to a family reunion she was hosting.
Thompson, who made her record ninth All-Star appearance, announced her retirement at the end of the season. She had a rough game missing all five of her attempts from the field, but still enjoyed the moment.
West coach Cheryl Reeve put the current Seattle Storm and longtime Houston Comets player back in the lineup with a few seconds left to get one final ovation from the fans.
Parker’s stellar game helped the league overcome the loss of Brittney Griner and top vote-getter Elena Delle Donne, who sat out because of injuries. The pair has been an attendance and ratings boon for the league.
Griner has missed Phoenix’s last five games with a sprained left knee and Delle Donne suffered a concussion in Chicago’s game Wednesday. They were poised to make history as the first pair of rookies from the same class to start the WNBA All-Star game.
But Griner sat on the bench, while Delle Donne recovered at home in Delaware.
“It hurts not being able to play, but I’m having a lot of fun just cheering,” Griner said.
Even though the rookies couldn’t play, the WNBA had seven other first-time All-Stars in the game. That didn’t even include Parker.
Despite joking before the game that she was “too old” to dunk, Parker threw down a few in warmups.
After a quiet first half, she helped rally the West after the break. Parker scored seven of nine points for her team during a 9-3 run that tied the game 61-61. She started the run with a three-point play off a putback and foul by fellow Lady Vol alum Tamika Catchings. Parker then used a nifty stutter-step from the wing for an easy layup and finished off the run with another lay-in.
After Sparks teammate Kristi Toliver hit back-to-back 3-pointers to the tie game, Ivory Latta hit her own 3-pointers to give the East an 81-74 advantage heading into the final period.
But Parker, who finished with 11 rebounds, and Toliver wouldn’t let the West lose for the fourth time in the past five All-Star games. Parker broke Swin Cash’s All-Star game record of 22 points with a layup near the end of the game that put the West up 98-91.
East coach Lin Dunn, who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville next year, joked that there was a simple reason her team came up short.
“They had Candace and we didn’t,” she said laughing.
Trailing 100-98 with 30 seconds left, the East had a chance to take the lead, but Cappie Pondexter missed a 3-pointer. Parker got the rebound and Toliver sealed the win by hitting two free throws.
“I see it every day,” Parker said of her Sparks teammate. “She’s one of the best shooters ever. I was proud of the way she came out and played within herself.”
Toliver, who was playing in her first All-Star game, scored 19 of her 21 points in the second half to help the West rally.
Catchings scored 12 points. Former Lady Vol Glory Johnson, who was playing in her first All-Star game, scored two points.