A sweep doesn't make the trophy shine any brighter or give the ring any more sparkle. A dynasty is a dynasty, no matter how many games it takes to accumulate championships. But, as the Sparks stand one game away from a WNBA three-peat, they are also poised to become unique among the elite as professional basketball's only three-sweep champions.
Milton and the Sparks are on a quest for number three.|
Andrew D. Bernstein
What this means is that so far, Los Angeles has yet to lose a Finals game, disposing of both the Sting and the Liberty in two before Friday's 75-63 Game 1 win over the Shock. What it doesn't mean is that the experience has become old hat.
"This season's been trying and we've had to elevate our level of focus because there's been some difficult times where we could have just tucked our tails in and said you know what, let somebody else take it," Sparks forward DeLisha Milton explained. "But all the women in this locker room and the coaching staff, we're committed to being champions and that's all we know how to do is win around here. So everyone's going to give their best effort every night to try to get this third one in a row. Lo and behold, it's been a long season, but look where we are now, we're one game away."
"We've had a lot of injuries this year," Sparks guard Mwadi Mabika said. "Going into the Finals like that, you know, you don't take things for granted. You have to go in and finish it up because you know it's been so tough."
The greatest challenge of the 2003 Finals compared to the Sparks' last two experiences is that for the first time, they'll have to clinch a championship on the road. Detroit finished the regular season with the league's best record and held homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. And as Shock coach Bill Laimbeer was quick to point out, this postseason, the Sparks have yet to win away from the STAPLES Center.
Will Lisa Leslie and the Sparks be holding a trophy again in 2003?|
Andrew D. Bernstein/WNBAE/Getty Images
"I said championships are won on the road and [Laimbeer] made a mention that we hadn't won anything on the road," Sparks head coach Michael Cooper
explained. "But he forgot that last year we went out and were able to win the first game on the road and then completed the sweep at home. So again, if we're going to win this one, we're going to win on the road."
Despite the ease of their Game 1 victory, the Sparks know they can't rest on their laurels. After some early-game jitters where the Shock shot just 18.9 percent in the first half, the team calmed down in the second half and outscored L.A. 42-33. It's a scene the Sparks find familiar.
"Our first time in the Finals, we were high on emotion," Milton remembered. "We were new to the game and didn't know what to expect or how to act or approach it. So we came out there just wild, with our eyes wide open, just trying to do everything in one play. I think they probably fell prey to that tonight. I definitely feel that we'll see a different team, a more composed team when we go back to Detroit to play them on their home court where they're in their element and they're comfortable with everything around them."
Still, the Sparks feel their championship experience will win out over homecourt advantage. And while they'll take a title any way they can get it, there is a sense of awe of what it will mean to take care of business in Game 2 and complete the three-sweep.
"It would be great. I don't want to get ahead of myself because I know Detroit will come out differently [at home]," L.A. guard Tamecka Dixon warned. "They've done a great job in the regular season and I know Coach Laimbeer will make adjustments but it would be great to be considered a part of history. We're looking forward to that so hopefully we can accomplish that."
"You have to have a special group of people to go out and accomplish something as great as that," Milton added. "With the parity of the league growing and the players getting better, these are tough times when you're trying to get a championship, so whenever you can run up on one, you better indeed take advantage of the opportunity."