- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

NEW YORK The song that blared before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals last night was customary for a New York Liberty playoff game the theme from "Rocky."
The Liberty promptly answered the bell and completely floored the Washington Mystics.
One loss from elimination, the Liberty came out fighting from the opening tip and didn't stop attacking the whole game in a 96-79 victory that tied the series at 1-1. While the Mystics didn't play poorly, they simply could not match the blistering scoring pace set by the Liberty, bringing both teams back for tonight's decisive Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
Tari Phillips and Tamika Whitmore each scored 23 points and Vickie Johnson made all five of her 3-point attempts on the way to 18 points, but it seemed whatever shots went up went in for the Liberty, who shot 66 percent from the field a WNBA playoff record and set a franchise-record point total.
"In all my years of playing basketball, I never played against somebody that shot this well," said Chamique Holdsclaw, who scored 14 points.
Before a crowd of 13,851 that included a good number of Mystics fans, the Liberty scored on their first seven possessions, making their first six field goal attempts. The team that had struggled to produce points in the waning moments of Game 1 regained its touch.
The Mystics seemed undaunted by the Liberty's shooting proficiency and stayed right with them. Stacey Dales-Schuman's second 3-pointer with 4:06 gone left the Mystics down just 12-10.
But the Liberty's hot shooting didn't stop there. Phillips picked up where she left off midway through the second half of Game1, when she racked up 21 points going scoreless for the final 9:29. This time she had 15 first-half points on 7-for-8 shooting. Her driving basket put New York up 26-18 with 9:54 left in the half as the Liberty made 15 of their first 19 field-goal attempts.
"We were running back and forth, up and down all night," Phillips said. "That would knock anybody out."
The Liberty led 50-39 at halftime and shot 71.4 percent (20-for-28) in the first half.
"We threw everything but the kitchen sink at them," said flabbergasted Mystics coach Marianne Stanley. "We have to put it on the shelf and come back ready to go [tonight]."
Interestingly enough, Phillips actually had a rough start to her night. Shortly after 6 p.m., she arrived outside the Garden by taxi. According to witnesses, Phillips was attempting to leave the cab when the taxi driver struck her, apparently thinking she was going to leave without paying the fare.
Phillips was not hurt, but she certainly hurt the Mystics. After hitting 10 of 13 shots in Game 1, Phillips connected on 11 of 13 last night, and her eight points in the first 5 minutes of the second half helped push the Liberty's lead from 11 to 18 and effectively end any hopes of a Mystics comeback. The lead bulged to 28 late in the game.
"They had their run, and usually you can counter their run with a run of your own. We just could never get to that point," Dales-Schuman said. "They almost had a run the entire game."
The Mystics shot 45 percent and committed just seven turnovers, but it didn't matter. The game looked nothing like the teams' regular-season meeting at the Garden when the Mystics won 65-54, a victory that had given the Mystics confidence they could close out this series in New York.
The Liberty have won three playoff series since 1999 in which they lost the first game on the road before winning the last two at home. While any team would be hard-pressed to duplicate last night's sensational shooting performance, the Liberty, owners of the Eastern Conference's best regular-season record, certainly gained back some of the swagger they lost in Game 1.
Because of the lopsided score, the Liberty who typically use just seven players could afford to rest their main players. Phillips played just 24 minutes, Johnson 26 and Teresa Weatherspoon 23, so the Liberty should be reasonably fresh for tonight.
The Mystics rested their players, too, but some for the wrong reasons. Dales-Schuman spent much of the second half with ice packs on her legs. She said she will be OK for tonight, but Stanley was concerned that Dales-Schuman is fatigued.
"The ante's up," Holdsclaw said. "I'm not shaken, I'm ready to go [today] for the real championship. We won here before and I'm confident in that."

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