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Sparks gain edge on Storm

September 20, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

All hands on deck.

The Sparks were hoping to wipe the slate clean when they opened the playoffs Friday night against the Seattle Storm, but few could have predicted the long line of players who would participate in the cleansing.

Ten players scored for the Sparks, including five in double figures, allowing them to weather the Storm in a 77-69 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series at Staples Center.

Candace Parker, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Marie Ferdinand-Harris scored 11 points each for the Sparks, and Kiesha Brown and Lisa Leslie contributed 10 points apiece, giving Los Angeles an early lead in the best-of-three series that resumes Sunday afternoon in Seattle.

"All we've done is start the playoffs," cautioned Sparks Coach Michael Cooper.

Much as they did in the regular-season finale Sunday against Seattle, the Sparks took control from the start, forcing five turnovers in the first six minutes and surging to an 18-5 lead on a jump shot by Milton-Jones. Playing without leading scorer and rebounder Lauren Jackson, who had ankle surgery in late August, the Storm looked flat during the opening minutes.

"We didn't really come out with the intensity and focus we needed," said Seattle guard Sue Bird, who scored a game-high 23 points.

Sparks reserve point guard Temeka Johnson scored six consecutive points late in the first half to give the Sparks their biggest lead, 41-23, with 2:01 left. Johnson finished with eight points, helping the Sparks' bench outscore Seattle's, 32-17. Seattle put a concerted effort into stopping Parker and Leslie, the team's leading scorers, holding them to one field goal and five first-half points.

"Teams are not going to allow Candace and I to beat them," said Leslie, who was named the league's defensive player of the year before the game. "It's not about us, it's about getting the ball to open players. . . . At times, Candace and I forced too many shots, or just tried to pass the ball to each other, and we turned the ball over."

Leslie, who led the league in turnovers during the regular season, committed eight, but offset those with 11 rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists.

"I almost had a triple double with the turnover column," she joked.

The Storm cut the deficit to eight late in the third quarter, but Raffaella Masciadri, who didn't play in the first half, sank two three-pointers to push the lead back to double digits heading into the fourth.

Bird asserted herself on the offensive end to start the final quarter, scoring six points in the first 3 1/2 minutes to cut the deficit to 64-57, prompting Cooper to call timeout. The Sparks then played the Storm even down the stretch.




Western semifinals; Sparks lead best-of-three series, 1-0:

Game 1: Sparks 77, Seattle 69

Sunday: at Seattle, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Tuesday: at Seattle, 6 p.m., ESPN2*

* If necessary

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