Rockers push around New York

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2000

CLEVELAND -- Usually, it's New Yorkers who get accused of being rude and pushy.

Rushia Brown scored 18 points and Cleveland's defense elbowed, grabbed, thumped and clamped down on New York from the outset Thursday night, sending the Rockers to a 56-43 victory over the Liberty in Game 1 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals.

''We did play New York's game,'' Merlakia Jones said. ''They're used to bullying people around.''

Brown and her Rockers teammates seemed to surprise favored New York, outhustling, outrebounding, outmuscling and outplaying the East's regular-season champion from the opening tip.

''They were the aggressor,'' New York coach Richie Adubato said. ''They did a great job on defense. They wanted the game more. They played hard-nosed, tough basketball and just took it to us.''

Susie McConnell Serio, who will retire when the season ends, added 10 points and made two key 3-pointers as Cleveland won its seventh straight home game before 11,686 fans at Gund Arena. Jones added 12 points and Chasity Melvin had nine rebounds for Cleveland.

The Rockers, who won just seven games last season, continued their amazing turnaround season under first-year coach Dan Hughes and now are just one win from the WNBA finals.

That win will be tough to get, though.

Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, where the Liberty have won 11 in a row. If New York, which beat Cleveland twice in the regular season, has any plans of getting to the league finals for the second straight year, it will have to play better than this.

''We stunk,'' said Tari Phillips, who led the Liberty with 11 points. ''We did not play like the championship team that we are and the one we want to be.''

New York shot just 31 percent from the floor, and made just 8 of 30 shots after halftime.

Vickie Johnson, who averaged 12.3 points during the regular season and 15 in the playoffs, had two points on 1-for-14 shooting.

Cleveland's aggressive defense had a lot to do with New York's shooting woes.

''We couldn't run any cuts to get open,'' Adubato said. ''And when we got open we couldn't make any shots. We panicked a little tonight instead of chipping away. We forced things and when that happens everything becomes very difficult.''

The Rockers also outrebounded the Liberty 34-22 by scrapping for every loose ball.

Cleveland's roster may not be as well known as New York's but with another performance like this one, the Rockers will get all the exposure they could ever want.

''Let us be no-names, that's fine,'' Jones said. ''Before the season started nobody even counted us for the playoffs, let alone the finals. But we believe in each other.''

Comets 77, Sparks 56

HOUSTON (AP) -- Sheryl Swoopes scored 22 points and Cynthia Cooper added 21, and the Houston Comets used a 17-0 run to take control in a win over Los Angeles Game 1 of the WNBA's Western Conference finals.

Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Sunday in Los Angeles. A third game, if necessary, would be in Los Angeles on Monday.

The Sparks, with the best record in the WNBA this season at 28-4, beat the Comets all three time they played in the regular season but the Comets, three-time WNBA champions, were ready this time.

Cooper, the two-time league MVP, and Swoopes, honored Thursday as this season's MVP, took control early as Houston overpowered the Sparks with the early 17-0 run that made it 19-4.

Cooper, held to 16 points in Monday's playoff game against Sacramento, and Tina Thompson each had six points in the run. Cooper had 15 points and Swoopes 10 in the first half as Houston built a 17-point lead at 40-23.

The Sparks self-destructed in the first half with 16 turnovers that the Comets turned into 25 points. Houston had eight first-half turnovers, yielding seven points. Los Angeles had 25 turnovers for the game, costing them 37 points.

Mwadi Mabika led the Sparks, hitting seven 3-pointers for 21 points. Lisa Leslie had 14 points.

Los Angeles shot 29 percent from the field in the first half and didn't have a player in double figures. The Sparks shot 36 percent overall.

Play was hard, but tempers didn't flare the way they did in last year's conference playoff between the teams.

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