- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

NEW YORK On several occasions early in the second half last night, the Washington Mystics stood a play or two away from overtaking the New York Liberty and stealing Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on the road.
As only a solid, veteran-grounded team can, though, the Liberty continually stayed a step ahead, ultimately emerging with a 64-57 victory before 11,780 at Madison Square Garden to advance to their fourth WNBA Finals.
The Mystics' season ended in bitter disappointment, especially after a Game 1 victory at MCI Center. But in the end, a Liberty squad with a little too much veteran savvy and inspiration on its homecourt proved the difference.
"In the end, the better team won it," the Mystics' Murriel Page said. " New York knows what it's like to compete for a championship. They played us hard in D.C., and then they came here and turned it up a notch."
The Mystics trailed just 58-55 with under a minute remaining. But the final two of Vickie Johnson's 19 points a 10-foot pull-up jumper with five seconds on the shot clock and 51 on the game clock gave New York a five-point lead.
Chamique Holdsclaw (19 points) misfired on the ensuing possession. When Teresa Weatherspoon canned two free throws, the Liberty began celebrating, complete with confetti showering them from the rafters, fireworks and fans dancing in the aisles.
"In this type of atmosphere, you want to come down in the last two minutes and be in a three, five-point game because it's anybody's game at that point," Stacey Dales-Schuman said.
Holdsclaw, despite battling some right knee trouble early in the second half, did everything she could to give the Mystics a chance to win the game. Using a variety of 1-on-1 moves, mostly against Tamika Whitmore, she made seven of 12 field goals in the second half for 15 of her 19 points, but her efforts fell short.
"I know I couldn't do it by myself," Holdsclaw said. "When I was doubled, I had to kick it to the open man."
After struggling throughout the series to slow down the Liberty's halfcourt offense, the Mystics used a flexible 2-3 zone in the second half last night to get back in the game.
That basically shut down Tari Phillips, who battled a bothersome left ankle throughout the game, holding her to 11 points and just two field goals. She had gone 21-for-26 from the field in the first two games combined.
The Mystics certainly didn't start the way they wanted offensively. They opened with two missed shots and two turnovers before Annie Burgess scored their first basket 3:12 into the game. The Mystics continued to misfire, though, starting 1-for-6 from the field with three turnovers, and the Liberty surged to a 12-2 lead the fifth time in six games this season New York has led by double digits in the first half.
The Mystics stayed in it with help from their bench. Asjha Jones, as she did early in the second half of Game 1, gave the Mystics a spark off the bench when she hit a 3-pointer and a driving shot early on. Page continued her outstanding play in the series with nine first-half points.
Two Coco Miller jumpers sandwiched a Holdsclaw jumper to bring the Mystics to 24-23 with 3:50 before halftime. But New York outscored the visitors 14-4 the rest of the half. Tamika Whitmore scored the last two buckets one a circus layup with her back to the basket and the other a layup that bounced through the rim as the first-half buzzer sounded for a 38-27 halftime lead.
The Mystics shot well, but turnovers killed them in the first half. Plus, the Liberty shot 19 more free throws than they did 26 to seven. Through the first 10 minutes, the Mystics were whistled for seven fouls to New York's one. On a couple occasions Holdsclaw didn't get calls on apparent fouls, contributing to her 1-for-7 shooting start.
"Just look at those free throw numbers they're totally lopsided," Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. "We had no control over that. What can you do?"
The Mystics showed real grit in rallying from a double-digit halftime deficit. The Mystics scored the first nine points of the second half, including seven by Holdsclaw, to trail just 38-36.
The Mystics stayed close. Annie Burgess hit a jumper with her foot on the 3-point line to leave the Mystics down 58-54 with 3:04 to go. After a New York turnover, Burgess missed a short jumper with under two minutes to go. The Liberty misfired again, leaving the Mystics still down four.
Burgess hit one of two free throws on the next possession, making it 58-55. But Johnson, who continually hit big shots all series, hit her pull-up jumper to seal it.

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