By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — Healthy again, Lauren Jackson wanted to make sure her first game this season was memorable for those that only recall her injuries of a year ago.
No one expected this performance to be notable for her defense.
Jackson did her part on offense, scoring 17 of her 23 points in the first half, but it was her defense on Los Angeles star Candace Parker that was even more impressive as the Storm pulled away for an 81-67 win over the Sparks on Sunday night.
“Candace Parker is a great player, there is no question about it. But Lauren Jackson’s defensive tonight was unbelievable,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “We have some (players) who can stay with Candace and a lot of teams don’t have that. … Lauren really did a great job.”
Kicking off the season before a sold out lower bowl at KeyArena, Tanisha Wright and Sue Bird both came up with big shots in the fourth quarter as Seattle turned a tight game into a comfortable opening win. Wright scored 17 points and Bird added 14, and Seattle outscored Los Angeles 22-5 in the final 8 minutes.
“In the last quarter our chemistry, the way it’s been building over the years, it started to show,” Jackson said.
It was the first time for Storm fans to see Jackson in a Seattle uniform since late August of last season. Jackson missed the final six games of the regular season and all of Seattle’s first-round playoff loss to the Sparks with stress fractures in her back.
She looked healthy and refreshed, matching up with Parker for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, the Sparks faded late, perhaps a result of playing less than 30 hours after tipping off the WNBA season at Phoenix with a one-point loss to the Mercury. Los Angeles hung around for three quarters before the rested Storm pulled away.
Tina Thompson, the lone player remaining from the inaugural WNBA season of 1997, led Los Angeles with 19 points. Parker was held to two points in the first half and finished with 10 points on 4 of 11 shooting.
The message from Agler before the game: make sure it doesn’t come easy for Parker. With Jackson marking her, nothing did.
“I think Lauren has a little more experience over Candace and she probably knows how to defend her,” Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom said. “I thought she played pretty tough, but all that is going to do is get Candace better.”
The Storm flustered the Sparks in the fourth quarter, holding Los Angeles scoreless for nearly four minutes.
Bird’s 3-pointer with 7:49 left pulled Seattle even at 62 and another 3-pointer 2 minutes later pushed Seattle’s advantage to six.
Parker climbed over Ashley Robinson for a follow basket to slowly stem the momentum, but Wright and Bird scored seven straight points to turn a close game into a rout.
Swin Cash added 17 points for the Storm, which got all but four points from their starters.
DeLisha Milton-Jones added 13 for Los Angeles but sat for nearly a quarter after picking up her fifth foul midway through the third quarter. Parker and former Seattle guard Betty Lennox led a Los Angeles rally that gave them a three-point lead early in the fourth before Seattle took over.
“There was no fatigue. It was all mental,” said Parker, who grabbed 11 rebounds. “We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Seattle also outscored Los Angeles 30-18 at the free-throw line. The Storm were 19 of 22 in the first half at the line, helping build a 43-36 halftime lead.