Page's production timely for Mystics vs. Liberty, 79-74

Her 17 points complement Holdsclaw's 20 in Game 1

Pro Basketball

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

WASHINGTON -- Last night's Game 1 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals started inauspiciously for Washington Mystics forward Murriel Page as her teammate, Chamique Holdsclaw, inadvertently knocked her down in their elaborate routine during player introductions.

But Page's night got a whole lot better as she scored 17 points off the bench to help the Mystics overcome a late deficit to beat the New York Liberty, 79-74, at MCI Center.

Page scored 13 points and grabbed three of her five rebounds in the second half as the Mystics emerged from an eight-point hole to seize control in the best-of-three series.

"I had a good game, but I'm going to beat myself in the head [today] and say, `Page, you could have done something better,' " she said.

Outside of a better-choreographed introduction, it's hard to imagine how Page could have been better. The 6-foot-2 veteran -- the last player left from the Mystics' first season five years ago -- hit all five of her free throws, belying her 61 percent career free-throw percentage.

Her spark gave Washington, which swept the Charlotte Sting in the first round of the playoffs, a lift at a most important moment, when it looked as if the Liberty would break the Mystics' collective heart one more time by coming into MCI Center and grabbing another win.

The Mystics, who 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 eight minutes to go.

But Page helped the Mystics draw from a wellspring of courage, fighting off New York to win a game they likely would have lost a month ago, when they dropped nine of 11 to fall out of first in the East, behind the Liberty.

"You 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 look so hot 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 were brilliant defensively late in the game, forcing big turnovers and getting steals, all in support of forward Holdsclaw, who had 20 points.

"Our passion and heart were there," Holdsclaw said. "We're glad we're in this position. The thing that is really going to help us is our defensive intensity. It's been big in these three games of the playoffs.

In addition to Page, who had 10 of Washington's 13 points in a critical second-half stretch, the Mystics got important contributions from rookie center Asjha Jones, who scored six points, while Tonya Washington chipped in seven as the three outscored 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 series shifts to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night for Game 2. A third game, if necessary, would also be played in New York on Sunday night.

New York center Tari Phillips torched Washington's interior for a game-high 21 points while Crystal Robinson added 20. But the Mystics held the New York backcourt of Vickie Johnson and Teresa Weatherspoon to a combined eight points.

The Mystics now head to New York, where they won two weeks ago by 11 points, needing to win only once in the next two games.

"It would be so great to go into Madison Square Garden and win and sweep the second game, but we know that in order for us to do that, it's going to be tough," Page said. "... We have to take our game and play 100 percent better."

New York 37 37 -- 74

Washington 35 44 -- 79

NEW YORK--Robinson 7-15 2-2 20, Whitmore 5-11 2-2 12, Phillips 10-13 1-4 21, Johnson 2-6 0-0 4, Weatherspoon 1-2 2-2 4, Hammon 4-8 0-0 11, Wicks 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-56 7-10 74. WASHINGTON--Dales-Schuman 3-8 2-2 9, Holdsclaw 7-14 5-6 20, Bullett 3-6 0-0 6, Miller 2-10 0-0 5, Burgess 3-7 3-4 9, Washington 2-3 2-2 7, Page 6-8 5-5 17, Jones 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 29-62 17-19 79. 3-point goals -- New York 7-18 (Robinson 4-10, Hammon 3-6, Whitmore 0-1, Johnson 0-1), Washington 4-13 (Washington 1-1, Miller 1-1, Holdsclaw 1-3, Dales-Schuman 1-4, Bullett 0-2, Burgess 0-2). Fouled out -- None. Rebounds -- New York 29 (Robinson, Weatherspoon, Whitmore, Phillips 5), Washington 35 (Holdsclaw 9). Assists -- New York 16 (Weatherspoon 9), Washington 17 (Holdsclaw 6). Total fouls -- New York 15, Washington 15. A -- 17,218

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