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West wins WNBA All-Star contest

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

NEW YORK When Lisa Leslie fell to the floor during the WNBA All-Star game, a hush fell over Madison Square Garden.

The league's biggest superstar and reigning MVP couldn't move. Tears streamed down her face as she grabbed her right leg. After several minutes, Leslie finally was helped off the court and her West teammates made a decision.

''We said, 'Let's go! Let's go! Let's get this one for Lisa,'' Marie Ferdinand said.

They certainly did. Nikki Teasley, Leslie's teammate on the Los Angeles Sparks, had 10 points, six rebounds and six assists to win the MVP trophy as the West rallied to beat the East 84-75 Saturday in front of 18,610 fans. The East has never won the All-Star game.

Leslie played just 16 minutes but led the West with 17 points, which all came in the first half. She was later taken to the hospital for an MRI, which showed a bruised right knee. Leslie is day-to-day.

''That's a scary situation,'' said Yolanda Griffith, who had 14 points and seven rebounds for the West. ''We didn't expect that to happen to somebody.''

Leslie, who has won three All-Star MVP trophies, fell hard after tangling with Swin Cash under the basket with 14:35 remaining. Cash said she was pulled down by Leslie and then rolled into her knees after Lauren Jackson blocked a shot.

Cash did not have a chance to say anything to Leslie because ''she was in a lot of pain.'' East guard Dawn Staley, one of Leslie's best friends, knew something was wrong when she saw Leslie crying.

''I've seen her go down before, but when I saw tears, I had to get up to see what was going on,'' Staley said. ''She's strong enough to overcome this. It's just a little scary when someone who is 6-5 drops to the floor like that.''

The game was physical early on, and West coach Michael Cooper also Leslie's coach with the Sparks believed the referees failed to make some calls.

''I'm not naming any players, they went over the back and the officials let that go and this happened,'' Cooper said. ''I think you have to call this one to kind of clam them down a little bit ... but you just don't say, 'OK, we are going to let them play,' because now players are going to start swiping, taking liberties more than they are supposed to, cheap shots.

''I'm just an advocate of letting a team play hard or play fair and the best team will win.''

Cooper said Leslie felt uncomfortable because she has never had a knee injury before.

''You have to go with the game, and injuries are part of the game,'' Cooper said. ''I would be doing a disservice if I did not play her.''

After Leslie left the game, the West stars rallied. With the pro-Eastern Conference crowd rooting against them, the West went on an 18-4 run to take a 66-54 lead with seven minutes remaining. But the East also rallied, cutting it to three twice down the stretch. Deanna Nolan hit a 3-pointer to make it 71-68 with 2:40 remaining, but that is as close as the East would come.

Teasley playing in her first All-Star game followed with a 3, and the West scored two more buckets to take a 78-68 lead with 1:32 to play. The West made six of eight free throws in the final 43 seconds to seal its fifth straight All-Star victory.

''We knew we had to score points somehow but we knew that our defense was going to win,'' Teasley said. ''So we just talked about being more aggressive and not letting the East take this game.''

Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever led the East with 17 points. Nolan of the Detroit Shock had 15 points off the bench, and Tari Phillips of the New York Liberty had 13.

In the first half, Leslie dominated but the West trailed 46-38 at the break. She had 17 points in 11 minutes, including 13 in the first five minutes of the game.

After trailing by as many as eight points in the first half, the East went on a 20-3 run to take a 46-34 lead with 1:50 remaining behind eight points from Catchings and five from Phillips.

Leslie scored two baskets before the break as the East went into halftime with an eight-point lead.

''They just capitalized on our misses,'' Staley said. ''That was the biggest thing.''

Now everyone is hoping the best for Leslie.

''You never want to see a player go down, especially in an All-Star game when it's just for fun,'' Ferdinand said. ''We stepped it up for her.''

Notes: The West's 84 points set an All-Star mark. The 159 combined points was also a record. The West scored 81 in its win last year when the teams combined for a then-record 157 points. ... The West also had the highest field-goal percentage in All-Star game history, shooting 47.7 percent from the floor.



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