Comets Steal First From N.Y.

Cynthia Cooper scored 29 points and the two-time defending champion Houston Comets used superior defense in a 73-60 victory over the New York Liberty in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night.

The Comets, the top defensive team in the league, held New York to 26 percent shooting in the first half before a crowd of 17,114 at Madison Square Garden.

Sheryl Swoopes had 15 points and Tina Thompson added 11 points and seven rebounds for the Comets, who head to Houston Saturday for Game 2 of the best-of-3 series.

Cooper, the WNBA's top scorer, was 8-for-16 from the field and made all 10 free throws as the Comets shot 44 percent.

Sophia Witherspoon scored 18 points off the bench to lead New York, which finished with 41 percent shooting for the game.

Vickie Johnson had 16 points and Crystal Robinson added 12 points for the Liberty. Robinson, New York's top 3-point shooter, was 2-of-7 from behind the arc.

Teresa Weatherspoon's three-point play brought New York within 49-41 with just over nine minutes remaining, but Houston went on a 15-8 run, capped by Tammy Jackson's basket, to give Houston its largest lead of the game, 64-49, with 3:25 left.

The Liberty got no closer than 11 thereafter.

New York won the battle of the boards 31-28, led by Sue Wicks' 11 rebounds.

Houston held the Liberty to 7-of-27 shooting (26 percent) in the first half as the New York starters shot 3-of-15 from the field. Cooper had nine points as the Comets shot 38.5 percent.

The top two defensive teams battled to 29-20 Houston advantage at halftime. Cooper's 3-pointer and Swoopes' layup opened a 14-point lead in the first 40 seconds of the second half.

New York went on a 12-4 run, led by Johnson's four points, to trail 38-32 with 13 minutes remaining.

Houston's defense clamped down on the Liberty early. New York went 1-for-9 with five turnovers in the opening eight minutes as the Comets took a 12-3 lead in the first half.

The Liberty went on a 10-6 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Robinson and a jumper by Sophia Witherspoon, to come within 18-13 with 8:02 remaining in the half.

Swoopes responded with consecutive baskets for a nine-point lead with just over six minutes left. New York went on a 5-0 run behind a free throw by Vickie Johnson and two layups by Witherspoon to trail 22-18.

Houston finished the half with a 7-2 spurt, capped by Jackson's two baskets, for a nine-point lead.

The Comets forced 10 first-half turnovers that converted into 13 points.

Houston finished the regular season with a WNBA-best 15-1 record at home. The Comets are 34-2 overall at home.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed