Hot-shooting Liberty controls Mystics

New York forces Game 3 for Eastern title, 96-79

Pro Basketball

August 25, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Mystics coach Marianne Stanley sat slumped on a bench in her team's Madison Square Garden locker room, racking her brain to recall the last time one team played as flawlessly as the New York Liberty did last night in thumping Washington, 96-79, in Game 2 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals.

"I felt like we were lucky to be only down by 11 at halftime," Stanley said. "That was just an incredible offensive performance that they put on. I was sitting here thinking to myself, `When was the last time that I saw something like that?' and it was the 1985 Villanova-Georgetown national championship game. That's probably the last time I saw something like that."

Indeed, New York's performance was pretty Wildcat-esque, as the Liberty shot an amazing 66 percent from the field, setting a league record for highest percentage in the six-year history of the WNBA. New York also scored 50 points before halftime - the most a Washington team has allowed in a half in five years - and permitted the Mystics only 13 defensive rebounds for the game.

"They came out ready and focused and put on an incredible show," Washington forward Chamique Holdsclaw said. "We have to fine-tune some things. If they do this [tonight], hey, they deserve to be Eastern Conference champs."

The Liberty, which has won two Eastern championships and made three Finals appearances, played brilliantly behind a trio of playoff-tested veterans: center Tari Phillips and forward Tamika Whitmore, who had 23 points each, and guard Vickie Johnson, whose 18 points included a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range.

Phillips, who is a combined 21-for-26 in the two games of the series, and Whitmore helped the Liberty to a whopping 48-26 advantage on points scored in the paint, opening the perimeter for Johnson to make open shots.

"They got 46 points in the paint," Stanley said. "We have to do something about that. The likelihood of them [Phillips and Whitmore] going 19-for-25 is not likely. Our part of it is to figure out what we're going to do to negate some of that. I have never seen someone shoot 60 percent from the floor two games in a row."

Tonight's third and deciding game of the series also will be played at the Garden, and the winner advances to next Thursday's WNBA championship series to meet the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks.

The Mystics, who staged a stirring comeback in Thursday's 79-72 Game 1 win, were never seriously in last night's game, as the Liberty shot 71 percent in the first half to lead 50-39 at the break. Although five Washington players scored in double figures, most of those points came once the contest had been decided.

Helen Luz had 16 points off the bench, including four three-pointers, while Holdsclaw, the league's leading regular-season scorer and rebounder, had 14 points and two rebounds, but only one on the defensive end.

"I don't know the last time that I had one defensive board in the game," Holdsclaw said. "They shot really well. You hate to concede things, but when they're making everything on the court, it really takes your spirits down. We didn't have an answer for it. I've never been on a team in my life, four years competitively in college, the Olympics, whatever, where the other team has shot like that. It was unreal."

Said Coco Miller: "It was really amazing. "In the first half they shot incredible and you're thinking, `They probably can't shoot that well for the entire game.' Well, they did. Everything they put up there went in. I've never seen anything like that. Defensively, we didn't do as well as we needed to, and we've got to change that."

And worse yet for the younger, faster Mystics, the Liberty, which will play its sixth game in eight days tonight, was able to rest its starters. Only Crystal Robinson played more than 30 minutes.

The Mystics will, for now, have to console themselves with the notion that New York can't possibly play as perfectly again.

"You can say that, but we have to control what we do, and that's to come out and play Mystic basketball," Stacey Dales-Schuman said. "They're veterans and they have experience, and we need to come out and play harder."

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