LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Sparks built a 21-point lead in the first half, then waited for Detroit to catch up.
The Shock never erased the double-digit deficit, and the two-time champion Sparks won 75-63 Friday night in the opening game of the best-of-three WNBA Finals.
Lisa Leslie, last year's finals MVP, scored 14 of her 23 points in the first half and had 12 rebounds. DeLisha Milton added 19 points, Tamecka Dixon had 15 and Nikki Teasley had 11 assists for the Sparks.
Detroit's Swin Cash scored 16 points and Deanna Nolan had 15 despite a back bruise. WNBA rookie of the year Cheryl Ford had 11 points and 12 rebounds playing in front of her father Karl Malone, one of the new members of the Los Angeles Lakers. Center Ruth Riley was held to six points as Leslie repeatedly scored over her.
It was like 1988 all over again for Shock coach Bill Laimbeer, formerly one of the "Bad Boys" on the Detroit Pistons, who lost to Sparks coach Michael Cooper and the Lakers in seven games of that year's NBA Finals.
The once-fiery Laimbeer was helpless to do anything about his team's shots that bounced off the rim or turned into airballs. At times, he shook his head and stood with his hands jammed in his pockets.
Cooper and the Sparks are within one victory of a championship three-peat, something the Houston Comets did en route to four consecutive titles from 1997-2000. Game 2 is Sunday in Detroit, where Game 3 would be Tuesday if necessary.
The Sparks' halftime lead was the second-largest in WNBA playoff history. Detroit, making its first-ever finals appearance after being the league's worst team last year, was playing at Staples Center for the first time this season after beating Los Angeles in overtime at home.
The Shock was a woeful 7-of-37 in the first half, surprising for a team that led the league in scoring with 75.1 points a game. Detroit had 12 of its 15 turnovers in the half.
The Sparks connected on 17-of-41 shots and committed just four turnovers in the first 20 minutes against a team that likes to run as much as they do.
Both teams came out ragged in the game's first three minutes. The Shock missed their first six shots, and the Sparks started 0-for-5 until Milton hit a 3-pointer.
The Shock got within one before the Sparks broke the game open with a 29-9 run over the final 10 1/2 minutes. Leslie scored 14 points in the spurt that gave Los Angeles a 42-21 halftime lead. During one stretch, she scored eight straight, including consecutive baskets over Riley, as the Shock repeatedly misfired.
Detroit never got on track in the second half despite making three straight baskets to open the half. Milton took over the scoring load from Leslie, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to push the Sparks' lead to 52-32 with 13:37 remaining.