Los Angeles 75, Detroit 63
Experienced Sparks Take Finals Opener
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 12 (Ticker) -- Lisa Leslie left no doubt that the Los Angeles Sparks are unwilling to abdicate the throne.
Detroit entered with the Coach of the Year in Bill Laimbeer, who has put his stamp on a physical frontcourt that features Swin Cash, rookie Cheryl Ford and Ruth Riley. But Leslie and DeLisha Milton led a defensive effort that bottled up the Shock's vaunted trio and opened up a 42-21 cushion at halftime.
"Our defense had a little to do with it, (but) they missed some easy shots," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "Defensively, we accomplished what we wanted to do - contest their shots. Defense wins championships."
Leslie scored 12 points in a 25-4 tear that broke open the game for the Sparks. Her basket with just under three minutes remaining before halftime gave Los Angeles a 38-16 cushion.
The Shock shot a woeful 19 percent (7-of-37) in the first half. Ford made just one of her first seven attempts and had her shot blocked emphatically by Milton on one occasion and Leslie on another.
"It was not anything that the Sparks did," Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. "It was our internal mechanism. I thought at times we were tentative in the first half. We lost our composure."
The best-of-three series shifts to Detroit for Game Two on Sunday afternoon.
Milton scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Tamecka Dixon added 15 points. Point guard Nikki Teasley handed out 11 assists.
Leslie had little trouble against the 6-5 Riley, scoring 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half. The success did not come as a surprise to her.
"I think in the beginning, I tried to figure out how to move her," Leslie said. "Would she go for fakes, not go for fakes? When they went to man-to-man, obviously I don't think she can guard me at all."
Cash scored 16 points and Deanna Nolan, who was listed as questionable due to a back injury, added 15 for Detroit. Cash, Riley and Ford, who collected 11 points and 12 rebounds, combined to make just 10-of-39 shots.
The Shock also committed 15 turnovers that led to 24 points for the Sparks.
"I think it was a little bit of nerves going on," Cash said. "We were just throwing the ball away to them."
Riley managed only six points and six rebounds in 32 foul-plagued minutes. Detroit finished at just under 29 percent (20-of-70).
Los Angeles improved to 5-0 all-time in the WNBA Finals and finished with a 5-0 home mark in the postseason this year. But the Sparks are 0-2 on the road in the playoffs. "All we've done is secure our home victory," Cooper said. "Now we've got to go there and get one of two."