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Early Waves Take Shock Out of Game

September 13, 2003|MIKE TERRY

So, Detroit, what was your hurry?

Were you afraid to miss that red-eye back to Motown? Were you competing to see who could heave up the most shots? Or was it just a case of high-top sneakers anxiety?

Los Angeles grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three WNBA finals with a 75-63 victory Friday night in part because the Sparks stayed with their game plan and the Shock players couldn't stop getting ahead of themselves, on offense or defense.

Detroit came into its first league championship series brimming with a youthful energy it couldn't wait to unleash upon the Sparks. But youth doesn't always know the difference between playing fast and playing impatient.

A veteran team such as the Sparks knows the difference. And it knows that when teams want to speed up the game, the best counter-move is often to slow things down.

Surprised initially by the Shock's 2-3 zone defense, the Sparks needed nearly three minutes to score their first field goal, but the three-pointer by DeLisha Milton was a harbinger of how Friday's game at Staples Center would go.

Once Los Angeles adjusted to how wide Detroit played its zone, the Sparks made sure there were at least four to five passes before they looked for a shot. Nearly a third of their shots were three-point attempts. They made only seven of 23 overall, but each one either blunted a Shock rally or drained a little more emotion out of Detroit.

"Sometimes we do a bad job of deciding when to shoot and when not to shoot," said Milton, who had 19 points. "But tonight [the long] shots were definitely there. The three-point line was wide open, in some instances, to certain people. And everyone on this team can shoot a three-point shot."

On the other hand, the Shock players acted as if they were playing with a 10-second rather than a 30-second clock. It didn't matter who had the ball once the Shock crossed the half-court line; the basket was fair game. But Detroit shot the ball as if its basket were closed for repairs. The Shock only made seven of 37 shots in the first half (18.9%) and 20 of 70 (28.6%) overall.

The last time Detroit was within one point of the lead was at 13-12 with 11:20 to go in the first half. Then the Sparks started slowing the tempo and pulling away.

A 9-0 spurt gave Los Angeles a double-digit lead at 22-12. Deanna Nolan interrupted the spurt with a 19-footer, only to see the Sparks reel off another 10 consecutive points, led by Tamecka Dixon, Milton and Lisa Leslie.

With the Sparks' lead at 32-14, the game was, for all intents, done.

"Some games you don't get the shots you normally get," said Dixon, who had 15 points. "But tonight DeLisha was able to get some shots and so was I. And if they continue to play that zone, it will leave a lot of opportunities for us."

By the end of the first half, the Sparks had two WNBA finals records: most points for a half (42) and biggest first-half lead (21 points). The Shock barely avoided the mark for lowest point total in the first half of the WNBA finals. New York managed 20 against Houston back in 1999.

But the Liberty could not have been more dazed and confused than the Shock was.

"We just kept rushing," said Nolan, who had 15 points. "I don't know if we were too anxious, playing a little scared, or what. But it was a lot of shots we usually make that we weren't making. If we had passed the ball two or three more times, we would have had a good shot instead of a rushed shot."

Swin Cash, who led Detroit with 16 points, also said Detroit was too fast for its own good. "Not only were we rushing offensively, but defensively we were kind of helter-skelter. We weren't talking and they were getting wide-open shots."

As a group, the Shock players insisted this will be a close series and that they can't wait to get it back home.

Again, they seemed in an awful hurry.

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