The tone seemed inappropriate when Sparks Coach Michael Cooper entered a postgame news conference after a loss with a beaming grin.
“What a game!” he said following the Sparks’ 103-94 Game 1 defeat Wednesday to the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference finals. “As Pat Riley would say, the playoffs start when one team wins on another team’s floor. We’re going to head down to Phoenix for two games, and we’re going to go down there and get this first one.”
That begins tonight at Phoenix’s US Airways Center in a potential elimination game for the Sparks, who league general managers predicted would win the league title.
It also could be the last game for Cooper and center Lisa Leslie. Cooper will coach the USC women’s basketball team after the Sparks’ season, and Leslie is retiring after 13 years.
Cooper remained defiant when a reporter asked, “What makes you think your team can win two games in a row on Phoenix’s home floor?” After all, the Sparks constantly faced double-digit deficits in Game 1 and allowed Phoenix to make 14 three-point baskets.
“What makes me think?” Cooper said. “Because we’re a very good basketball team. I don’t think, I know.”
Sparks forward Candace Parker acknowledged the team didn’t share the same upbeat attitude as Cooper. She planned to sleep off her frustration Wednesday night and wake up forgetting about the Game 1 loss. As long as the Sparks adjust defensively on the perimeter, Parker maintained a comeback is realistic.
“Losing this game makes it harder but not impossible,” she said. “We still believe we can go take care of business in Phoenix and send Lisa out with a ring.”