Ford Leads East Past West in All-Star Thriller
By VIN A. CHERWOO, AP Sports Writer

East 103, West 99

WASHINGTON, July 15 (AP) -- Bill Laimbeer brought some "Bad Boy'' toughness to the WNBA All-Star game and coached the Eastern Conference to its first winning streak in the midseason spectacle.

"We talked about it before the game,'' East coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We were going to have some fun, but we're going to win the game.''

Cheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Katie Douglas scored 18 points to give the East a 103-99 victory Sunday, its second straight since losing the first six.

Laimbeer, a physical force on the Detroit Pistons' NBA title teams in 1989 and 1990, has brought that swagger to the WNBA as head coach of the league champion Shock.

"He was still the same,'' said Ford, the All-Star MVP. "He was the fiery coach he is, and he wanted to win.''

Ford took the challenge and led the East to its second straight All-Star game victory after dropping the first six. Ford, who hit her first career 3-pointer in the second quarter, shot 5-for-9 from the floor and was 5-for-7 on free throws.

"It was a nice award for me, a nice achievement,'' Ford said of the MVP honors. "I didn't come in here expecting to win. I just came to play and show the fans a good time. But I won and, most importantly, our team won.''

Tamika Catchings had 15 points and 11 rebounds, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Deanna Nolan scored 11 points apiece and Asjha Jones had 10 to help the East hold on after nearly squandering a 12-point lead in the final 2 minutes.

"Just like that, they came back,'' Catchings said. "They hit some 3s, got some steals, rebounds. They were hitting down the stretch and put that little pressure on us. We won and that's all that matters. That's what we were aiming for.''

Tina Thompson scored 19 points, Lauren Jackson had 14, and Diana Taurasi and Becky Hammon 13 each for the West, which had its six-game All-Star winning streak snapped last year in New York. Cappie Pondexter added 12 points and Taj McWilliams-Franklin 11.

"Just couldn't pull it out in the end,'' Jackson said. "It was a fun game, high scoring. If we made a few more 3s we probably would have won.''

The West shot 37 percent from the floor, attempting an All-Star-record 100 field goals. It was 17-for-46 on 3-pointers, records for made and attempted.

"We just tried to beat them from the outside simply because we thought we are a little quicker,'' Thompson said. "They did a great job of getting the ball inside and getting really high percentage shots.''

The East made 45 percent from the field (40-for-89), 9 of 20 on 3s and 14 of 17 at the line.

"The East plays defense, and the West doesn't. The West shoots 3s all night long and the East takes it to the hole a little bit more,'' the East's Alana Beard said. "I thought we did a great job of just pushing the ball in transition, and getting the ball to open players.''

Candice Dupree's layup capped a 9-2 run for the East that gave it an 89-75 lead, its biggest of the game, with 6:02 left. Thompson had a 3-pointer, and McWilliams-Franklin had a fastbreak layup to pull the West within nine 24 seconds later.

Douglas, the MVP in the East's win last year, hit two 3s in 72 seconds to push the lead to 99-87 with 2:26 left.

The West then closed with a 12-4 run. Seimone Augustus made a basket, and Thompson and Hammon hit 3s to pull within three with 47 seconds to go.

Anna DeForge made a jumper with 39 seconds to go to push the lead back to five. Hammon made one free throw 6 seconds later to close the scoring.

This was the league's closest All-Star game, topping the West's 81-76 victory in 2002 - also in Washington. The East's total was only the second time either squad topped 100, and trailed the West's 122 points in 2005.

After trailing by 11 midway through the second quarter, the East started its comeback with Ford's 3.

"I guess the West rubbed off on me a little bit,'' she said. "They were shooting 3s, so why not join them?''

The East tied it at 53 going into halftime as Asjha Jones and Candice Dupree had four points each in an 8-2 run over the final 1:18 of the half. Dupree capped the comeback on a layup with 16 seconds left.

"One of the things we talked about with 2 or 3 minutes left was, 'Let's just tie the game,''' Catchings said. "Either be down just a little bit or tie the game, or even be ahead. We pulled together and played great defense, made some stops, got to the basket and were able to change the momentum.''

Nolan hit a jumper with 8:22 left in the third to give the East its first lead, 55-53, and it never trailed again.

After McWilliams-Franklin's layup pulled the West to 59-58 with 6:03 to go in the third, the East went on a 13-4 run to take its first double-digit lead.

"We started getting cold I thought a little bit toward the end of the second quarter and into the third,'' Hammon said.

Pondexter hit a jumper and made a 3 in span of 19 seconds to cut the deficit in half, However, DeLisha Milton-Jones had four points in the final minute of the quarter, including a buzzer-beating fadeaway to push the lead to 78-67.