Liberty bank deflects Comets

Weatherspoon saves N.Y., extends Finals on half-court heave, 68-67

September 05, 1999|By Earl Gustkey | Earl Gustkey,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON -- How close was a Houston Comets threepeat?

Men manning confetti cannons had their fingers on the triggers.

The giant cereal box in the press room with the Comets' team picture on it was unveiled, ready for inspection.

At halftime, press room phones were all in use -- by people booking flights home.

No way New York wins this one, everyone figured.

Everyone but Teresa Weatherspoon.

She quieted the cannons, someone tossed a tarp over the cereal box and airline reservations had to be changed.

Weatherspoon banked in a 50-foot moonshot at the buzzer yesterday that stunned Houston, 68-67, before a capacity crowd of 16,285 at Compaq Center.

It tied the WNBA Finals at one game apiece and set up the deciding game for today.

All because of one play, which stands as easily the most dramatic of the WNBA's three seasons. And it was a play New York nearly fouled up before it began.

Houston had a 37-23 halftime lead, but faltered in the second half, as New York rallied. Tina Thompson had made a baseline jumper with 2.4 seconds to play to give the Comets a 67-65 lead.

Then, suddenly, no one appeared to inbound the ball for the Liberty.

Weatherspoon, screaming for help, finally induced Kym Hampton to race back to the baseline and inbound.

Weatherspoon got the ball, broke right, dribbled past the Houston bench and dodged Thompson as she swiped at the ball. Weatherspoon let the ball fly -- from behind the line at midcourt.

"It felt pretty good all the way," she said afterward.

Said teammate Crystal Robinson, who scored a game-high 21 points: "When I looked back at [the shot], I thought: `That's got a good arc, the distance looks right' and she hit the middle of the square on the glass."

For a split second, the Liberty bench sat unmoving, as stunned as everyone else. Then the subs began their victory charge, engulfing their shooter.

So the Liberty coach, Richie Adubato, in 24 hours, went from the WNBA doghouse to the catbird seat. He had been fined $1,500 for a silly post-game tirade against the officials on Thursday.

When he said afterward that his players actually practice half-court shots every day, some thought he was kidding.

"At the end of every practice, [Weatherspoon], [Becky] Hammon and others stay late and take those half-court runners," he said, adding that he was due.

"In my coaching career, I was 0-for-6 on shots like that. This was the first time I ever won one."

New York, trailing 17-2 in the first half, took command after halftime.

After shooting 1-for-6 in the first half, Robinson scored 16 of her 21 points in the first nine minutes of the second half and gave the Liberty its first lead, 42-40, on a three-pointer with 11: 55 to play. Hammon came off the bench to score seven of her 10 points in the Liberty's 45-point second half.

Robinson tied the score at 65 with 16.3 seconds left, then Thompson banked in a 7-footer that gave the Comets the lead and set off the confetti machines.

"I had already put my head down and a towel over it getting ready to go," said Liberty forward Sue Wicks. "But when [the shot] went in, I didn't realize it was the game. I was stunned. It was something to see."

But for the Comets, whom one Liberty player accused of having the "champagne already chilling" on Friday, it was disgusting.

Houston's Cynthia Cooper, who finished with 11 points, shot just 1-for-10. The Comets shot a championship-round low 15-for-50 from the floor -- 6-for-26 in the second half.

The loss broke a 14-game home winning streak for Houston. It's also the first playoff loss in eight home games for Houston.

"Anytime you have a team that far down and you let them come back, they have to have momentum," said Sheryl Swoopes, who finished with 14 points. "We gave them the opportunity to come back on us and they took it."

The New York Daily News and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

New York 23 45 -- 68

Houston 37 30 -- 67

NEW YORK -- Johnson 2-8 0-0 4, Wicks 3-9 2-2 8, Hampton 4-10 2-4 10, Robinson 6-11 5-5 21, Weatherspoon 3-5 0-0 8, Whitmore 0-4 1-4 1, Witherspoon 2-5 2-3 6, Hammon 2-4 4-4 10. Totals 22-56 16-22 68.

HOUSTON -- Swoopes 3-12 7-8 14, T.Thompson 4-9 4-6 15, Tzekova 2-7 6-6 11, Cooper 1-10 10-12 12, Henning 0-1 1-4 1, Arcain 3-6 4-4 10, Jackson 2-5 0-2 4. Totals 15-50 32-42 67.

Three-point goals--N.Y. 8-16 (Robinson 4-9, Weatherspoon 2-3, Hammon 2-3, Johnson 0-1). Hou. 5-12 (T.Thompson 3-4, Tzekova 1-1, Swoopes 1-2, Arcain 0-1, Cooper 0-4). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--N.Y. 44 (Hampton 9), Hou. 41 (Swoopes, Tzekova 6). Assists--N.Y. 15 (Weatherspoon 5), Hou. 10 (Cooper 6). Total fouls--N.Y. 26, Hou. 18. A--16,285.

WNBA Finals

Houston vs. New York (Best of three; series tied, 1-1)

Game 1: Houston 73, N,Y. 60

Yesterday: N.Y. 68, Houston 67

Today: at Hou., 3: 30 p.m., Ch. 11

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