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SPARKS 70, SEATTLE 63

Sparks beat Storm in Game 1

Thompson leads the way with 16 points as L.A. holds off Seattle. A win Friday would clinch Round 1.

September 17, 2009|Mark Medina

While the team huddled together, Sparks Coach Michael Cooper was about to rip into his players.

Before he could, though, his players took care of it. They had a 12-point lead with five minutes 14 seconds remaining in Game 1 of their best-of-three Western Conference semifinals matchup with Seattle. But with the way the Storm kept chipping away at their lead, nothing was safe. Hence, the discussion during a timeout.

"Sometimes the team has to do that and take responsibility like a veteran team like we do," Cooper said. "But I still had a few choice of words, but nothing that could be printed. It's about revving it back up and get it going."

The Sparks did that and came out with a 70-63 victory over Seattle in front of 7,919 on Wednesday at Staples Center. Following the timeout, Tina Thompson made a steal against guard Swin Cash and then converted on a three-point play to give the Sparks a 65-54 lead with 4:42 remaining. After Thompson made an 11-foot turnaround jump shot and drew a foul on Cash, she screamed in delight.

The Sparks were one step closer to a 1-0 lead in the series and will have a chance to take the series in Game 2 on Friday. It would be the second consecutive time the Sparks eliminated the Storm from the first round of the playoffs, and Seattle's fifth consecutive first-round exit.

"At the time, that's not something you think about, but you definitely want to make shots," said Thompson, who finished with a team-high 16 points. "If you get the opportunity to be in a position to make a big shot, it helps your team pull away from the other team."

It appeared the Sparks wouldn't be able to do that, despite finishing with a 22-6 first-quarter lead, the fewest points they allowed in a quarter this season and the Storm's second-lowest output in a first quarter this season. They held Seattle to 11.1% shooting and didn't hit a field goal until Camille Little's jumper with 7.3 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Storm also fielded only nine players, with both two-time MVP Lauren Jackson (two stress fractures) and reserve guard Katie Gearlds (knee) absent. Others picked up the slack, including Cash (24 points), Suzy Batkovic-Brown (16 points) and Tanisha Wright (24).

The Sparks eventually prevailed, though, despite shooting only 35.7%. They scored 24 points in the paint, had 14 second-chance points and went 25 of 30 in free throws.

"That was a sign that we were being really aggressive," said Sparks center Lisa Leslie, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. "The coaches kept telling us to pound it inside and don't settle for jump shots. The Sparks six games ago would've kept jacking up shots, but we didn't do that."

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mark.medina@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesmedina

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