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Sparks Deliver Shock Treatment

Leslie has 23 points and jittery Detroit shoots 28.6% as L.A. prevails, 75-63, in Game 1 of WNBA finals.

September 13, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

DeLisha Milton shook her head as she walked off the court, watching the fans at Staples Center celebrate Friday night after the Sparks' 75-63 victory over the Detroit Shock in Game 1 of the WNBA finals.

Milton didn't get caught up in the festivities because she knows better: This year her Sparks lost openers on the road in each of their playoff series against Minnesota and Sacramento and came back to win both of those best-of-three series.

"We've seen other teams do that to us by celebrating after the first game and I know that we used that as motivation," said Milton, who had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Sparks, who took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three finals. Game 2 is Sunday at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

In their final home game of the season in front of a crowd of 10,264, the Sparks didn't play a perfect game, but they performed well enough to easily defeat the Eastern Conference champions.

With captain Lisa Leslie finishing with a game-high 23 points (on 10-for-18 shooting), 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists, the Sparks never trailed the Shock, which shot 28.6% from the field.

"Again, this one win doesn't mean anything," Coach Michael Cooper said about his Sparks, who improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs although they have yet to win on the road during the postseason. "As I've always said, 'The playoffs start when one team wins on the other team's home court.' All we have done is just secure our home victory. Now we have to go over there and try to get one of two."

Detroit, which finished with the best record during the regular season, certainly began the game playing like a team making its first appearance in the WNBA finals. Everything the Shock did for the first five minutes seemed a little out of sync.

If it wasn't Elaine Powell or Deanna Nolan putting up off-target jump shots that barely hit the rim, it was Cheryl Ford or Ruth Riley missing forced attempts in traffic underneath the basket.

The only thing that kept the score close early was the Sparks' poor shooting as the teams combined to miss the first 10 shots of the game.

"Obviously, it's the championship series and you're going to have some jitters," said Spark guard Nikki Teasley, who finished with 11 assists, seven rebounds and six points.

"Everyone was eager and ready to play. I think that's why we came out and rushed some of our shots."

For nearly the first nine minutes, the Sparks had trouble figuring out how to attack Detroit's sagging 2-3 half-court zone.

With Powell, Nolan and Swin Cash chasing the ball around on the perimeter and then trapping once it got inside to Leslie, the Shock did a good job of getting the Sparks to take ill-advised shots. But once the Sparks realized that they did not have to launch outside attempts every time they touched the ball, they dominated with Milton, Leslie and Tamecka Dixon leading the way.

And all they needed was one good stretch to break the game open.

After Powell made a reverse layup to cut Detroit's deficit to 13-12 with 11:20 remaining in the first half, the Sparks scored nine consecutive points en route to a 29-9 run that gave Los Angeles a 42-21 lead.

During their first-half blitz, the Sparks not only passed the ball better but they also had more player movement and cuts to the basket. That opened up midrange shots for Leslie, who made seven of 12 shots and finished with 14 points in the opening 20 minutes.

But the pivotal factor behind the Sparks' huge halftime lead was their defense, which limited Detroit to 18.9% shooting (seven for 37), with Cash (the Shock's leading scorer in the playoffs) accounting for only six points.

"I just think we took herky-jerky shots," Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer said about his team's poor shooting in the first half. "We were not confident at that point in the game."

Except for a couple of minor spurts, it was more of the same for the Shock in the second half. The closest Detroit came was an 11-point deficit, at 72-61, with 1:29 left.

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