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Shock Doesn't Let Sparks Slip Away

L.A. rallies from a 19-point deficit but falls, 62-61, in Game 2 of WNBA finals as offense loses handle on final play.

September 15, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Shock got what it wanted. The WNBA got what it wanted.

And the two-time champion Sparks got what they didn't want -- a third and deciding game in the WNBA finals.

Detroit blew a 19-point lead Sunday but came back on two free throws by Deanna Nolan with 12.1 seconds to play to edge the Sparks, 62-61, before 17,846 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

On Tuesday, the longest season in WNBA history will end. It will be the third Game 3 played in the finals. Houston twice played Game 3s -- against New York and Phoenix -- during its four-year run as champion.

It was the first victory for an Eastern Conference team in the finals since 1999.

Spark Coach Michael Cooper did his best to put a happy face on the final result.

"You know what, I'm enjoying this so much because the WNBA has definitely gone to another level," he said. "I thought, 'What a great game.'

"As everyone can see, women play basketball just at the highest priority and level that men do. They may not play above the rim, but this game is good below the rim."

Still, the Sparks, who at one point trailed, 38-19, in the first half, thought they would be sipping champagne after roaring back in the second half to tie the score, 57-57, and adding two more field goals to go up, 61-57, with 1:28 to play. Lisa Leslie, who had only two points in the first half, was the central figure in the Spark comeback, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

"I thought that the second half, like I said after the Game 1, that at some point in this game they were going to test us. That's what champions do," Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer said. "They play great basketball, testing your mind, your mental toughness, seeing if you'll crack and they can steal one."

But the Sparks couldn't steal this one.

Shock guard Kedra Holland-Corn, who led Detroit with 16 points off the bench, made a three-pointer that brought the Shock within one, 61-60, with 1:11 left. Spark guard Tamecka Dixon missed a shot, and Shock forward Swin Cash was blocked by Leslie, but Detroit got the rebound and a Leslie foul sent Nolan to the line for her only free throws of the game.

"There was no pressure," said Nolan, who scored 14 points. "Either make one and we go to overtime, or make both and we can win. So it was no pressure; just take a deep breath and knock the shot down."

She made them both, but the Sparks had one last chance. After a timeout, they got the ball inside to Leslie, who passed to DeLisha Milton at the free-throw line. Milton, who scored 18 points, made a fake and took a step closer for a better shot, but under defensive pressure the ball slipped out of her hands. Leslie grabbed it and tried to go back up, but the ball slipped away and time expired.

When asked if she had been fouled on the final play, Leslie said, "I don't remember. It's all a blur."

At least the Sparks won't have long to think about Sunday's loss. It definitely won't be forgotten. "To some degree you have to think about it, to be able to make adjustments for the third game," said Dixon.

Detroit showed from the outset that things would be different from the way they were in Los Angeles. The Shock's first four field goals were layups, and Detroit established an inside game. As soon as L.A. tried to clamp down on Cheryl Ford and Cash, the Shock went back outside to Nolan and Holland-Corn. Detroit had it all working -- the running game, the half-court game and, with a 38-22 halftime lead, it had control.

"I thought we played spectacular basketball in the first half," Laimbeer said.

The Sparks, meanwhile, looked out of sync. Leslie was swarmed and slapped every time she received an interior pass. She missed all five of her first-half shots and scored two points on free throws. The Sparks couldn't make Detroit pay from outside. Not with 25% field-goal shooting in the half.

"That first half I didn't know what team that was out there," Milton said. "It wasn't the Sparks team that had won two straight championships. But the second half we made a concerted effort to pick up the intensity. Once we did that, we chipped away at their lead."

The comeback was reminiscent of a Spark victory over San Antonio in June, when they overcame a league-record 22-point deficit for the victory. On Sunday, they couldn't finish off Detroit once they got the lead back.

They have one more chance.

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