Sparks stifle Liberty, near WNBA crown

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Los Angeles Sparks are one win away from their second straight WNBA championship.

Mwadi Mabika scored 20 points and DeLisha Milton added 17 as the Sparks withstood a late comeback to hold off the New York Liberty 71-63 Thursday night in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

Game 2 in the best-of-three series is Saturday in Los Angeles. The Liberty are 0-3 in WNBA Finals, losing all three times to the Houston Comets.

The Sparks are 5-0 in the postseason this year and have two chances at home to win the title, but the Liberty are familiar with facing elimination.

They won the decisive third game in series against the Fever and Mystics, but Thursday was their first home playoff loss this season.

Reserve Becky Hammon led New York with 18 points, and Crystal Robinson scored 13.

The teams split in the regular season, and Game 1 of the finals was just as close. Los Angeles withstood several Liberty rallies in the second half, including one with less than two minutes to play.

Vicki Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 1:24 left to bring the Liberty to 64-61, but Milton scored on the next Sparks possession to seal it.

The Los Angeles trio of Mabika, Milton and Lisa Leslie was too much for the Liberty. They combined to score 52 points and they came up with big plays when the Sparks needed them.

The game was tied at 35 at halftime. The teams traded baskets to start the second half, and the Sparks went on a 6-0 run to open a 49-43 lead with 11:48 remaining.

They did not trail again. No matter how hard the Liberty tried to come back, the Sparks always had an answer.

After the Liberty cut the lead to three with 8:53 to play, Mabika hit a 3-pointer. The Liberty cut it to 60-56, but Mabika answered with a field goal.

Milton's basket with a minute to play put an end to the Liberty's final run.

The Liberty jumped out to an early nine-point lead. New York used seven 3-pointers to open a 31-22 lead with 6:16 remaining. But the Liberty scored just four points the rest of the half and the Sparks took advantage.

The Liberty shot 70 percent (7-of-10) from 3-point range in the first half.

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