Mystics dig deep, top Liberty, 79-74, in Game 1 of series

Late rally fends off N.Y.

Holdsclaw leads with 20

August 23, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - For a while last night, it looked as if the New York Liberty was going to break the hearts of the Washington Mystics one more time by coming into MCI Center and grabbing another win.

The Mystics, who had trailed by double digits in both of their home regular-season losses to New York, fell behind by 11 in the first half and by eight with 8 minutes to go in Game 1 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals.

But the Mystics drew from a wellspring of courage, fighting off the Liberty, 79-74, pulling out a contest they likely should have lost.

"You also saw tremendous heart out of our players. It came when we needed it. They gave us everything they had and that's all that you can ask for from your players - to play with intensity." said Washington coach Marianne Stanley.

The final numbers didn't say much for Washington, as only two Mystics scored in double figures. Washington's starting front line was outscored, 53-35, and it allowed New York to shoot 54 percent from the field.

But the Mystics, who swooned in July and early August, dropping nine of their last 11, were brilliant down the stretch, getting important contributions from their bench to aid star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 20 points.

Reserve forward Murriel Page had 17 points - 13 in the second half, including 10 of 13 in a critical stretch to bring the Mystics from a four-point deficit to within one. Rookie center Ashja Jones contributed six points, while Tonya Washington chipped in seven to outscore New York's reserves, 30-13.

"These are great numbers from their bench. I don't know that these people had given them these kinds of numbers." said New York coach Richie Adubato.

The best-of-three series shifts to Madison Square Garden for tomorrow night's second game. A third game, if necessary, would also be played in New York on Sunday evening.

Just as they had in the two regular-season games here, the Liberty took a double-digit lead in the first half after an 11-0 run, with Tari Phillips scoring six points in the surge to power New York to a 22-11 lead with 12:04 to go in the half.

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