Thompson (18 pts), Lennox (17 pts) led charge over defending WNBA champs
It was almost a perfect start for the Los Angeles Sparks in their season opener Saturday.
A 22-point halftime lead in front of a sellout crowd that included rapper Snoop Dogg. Offseason acquisition Betty Lennox providing instant offense. Tina Thompson having a homecoming to remember.
The commanding 78-58 victory at Staples Center left plenty to be happy about as the revamped Sparks looked every bit of the dominant team they appeared on paper.
Despite Lisa Leslie not having one of her better outings (six points and three rebounds),the veteran had plenty of support in her final season opener before her retirement as seasonâ€™s end.
Lennox finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds as her aggressive play set the tone in the first half.
â€œItâ€™s all about effort, thatâ€™s what weâ€™ve been doing in practice since Day One and I just turned it on from practice to game,â€ she said.
Her play came as no surprise to head coach Michael Cooper, who expected similar numbers when the team acquired her.
â€œI said to [Lennox] that she can average a triple-double on this team. Sheâ€™s always in attack mode and we need someone in transition who can go out and get theirs,â€ Cooper said.
Thompson finished with 18 points and six rebounds while DeLisha Milton-Jones chipped with 10. Off the bench, forward Vanessa Hayden scored 12 pts off the bench (6-6 from the field) and guard Noelle Quinn, making her return to Los Angeles, contributed with eight points.
â€œThey have more scorers and more shooters,â€ Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said, comparing this team to last yearâ€™s, â€œ I expect them to come out of the West and I expect us to come out of the East and I think they expect the same.â€
If this was a Finals preview, it wasnâ€™t a pretty one for Detroit. Deanna Nolan led the way with 15 points but the team shot 30.6% from the field. They did, however, win the rebounding battle 36-34 despite missing forward Cheryl Ford (torn right ACL) and center Kara Braxton, currently serving a six-game suspension.
It was the teamsâ€™ first meeting since July 22 of last year, when the game ended in an altercation between several players. Things got chippy in the first quarter when Shock forward Plenette Pierson got tangled up with Thompson and was thrown to the floor in front of the Sparksâ€™ bench
The play, called a double foul, prompted Laimbeer to walk across the floor to protest the call. Pierson writhed in pain on the floor for several minutes, clutching his shoulder, and suffered what Laimbeer called a season-ending injury.
â€œSheâ€™s going to be out for a while,â€ he said. He felt that Pierson was targeted after initiating last seasonâ€™s brawl that witnessed 10 players and Shock assistant coach Rick Mahorn serve suspensions.
â€œYou canâ€™t intentionally pull them over your back like that,â€ he added.
Cooper took a different view, saying it was just a matter of two players getting tangled up.
â€œIâ€™m glad we just kept our focus and kept playing good basketball,â€ he said.
That they did. After leading 24-14 after the first, the team poured it on in the second and ended the half with 51-29 advantage they never relinquished.
Both teams will matchup again on Monday in Detroit.
The game also featured the Sparksâ€™ new uniforms sponsored by Farmers Insurance Group, whose logo was prominently displayed on the front.Â The partnership follows lead of the Phoenix Mercury, who made a similar deal with Lifelock earlier this week.