Sparks wrap up crown

Posted: Sunday, September 01, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Sparks made sure that the WNBA champions list remained at two teams.

Rookie Nikki Teasley hit a 3-pointer for the go-ahead basket with 2.1 seconds remaining and the Sparks beat the New York Liberty 69-66 Saturday to successfully defend their title.

Only the Sparks and the Houston Comets, who claimed the first four WNBA titles, have won the championship in the league's six-year history.

Lisa Leslie scored 17 points, Mwadi Mabika added 12 and Teasley had 11 points and 11 assists as the Sparks rallied in the second half after squandering a 14-point lead.

Leslie was selected the most valuable player of the Finals for the second year in a row.

Confetti doused the delirious Staples Center crowd as security staff roped off the floor and the Sparks mobbed each other at midcourt.

The Sparks became the second team in league history to go undefeated in the playoffs. Their 6-0 record included sweeps of Seattle, Utah and New York. Houston went undefeated twice, in 1997 and 2000.

A devastated Teresa Weather-spoon bent down on one knee and held her head in her hand after the Liberty lost in the Finals for the fourth time, including three to Houston. They needed a win to force a decisive third game Sunday, but instead finished 0-3 in road playoff games this season.

Los Angeles finished with a 31-7 record, including a nine-game winning streak. The Sparks have won nine consecutive playoff games, dating to Aug. 26, 2001.

Tari Phillips hit a jumper to tie the game at 66 with 18 seconds left. It capped a 9-0 spurt by the Liberty, who held a one-point lead earlier in the half and then trailed by nine with 4:25 remaining.

Tamika Whitmore and Johnson each scored 17 points for the Liberty. New York finished 22-18 after being forced to win a third game in both the first round and Eastern Conference finals.

Just like they did in winning 71-63 at New York on Thursday, the Sparks went with a big lineup. They started 5-foot-11 Latasha Byears at shooting guard in place of Tamecka Dixon, who injured her back and knee when she slipped on a wet step coming off the team bus Thursday.

Despite second-half foul trouble, Byears helped control the inside most of the game. She finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, although the Liberty held a 38-33 rebounding edge.

Dixon finished with six points before fouling out.

Los Angeles ran off seven straight points to start the second half and take a 38-24 lead. But the Liberty countered with their own 12-0 run, including two straight baskets off Sparks' turnovers, to trail 38-36.

New York took its only lead of the game, 42-41, on a basket by Johnson with 14:23 remaining. She got fouled by Leslie, but missed the free throw.

Teasley's two free throws put the Sparks back in front by one, then Phillips made one of two free throws on Leslie's fourth foul to tie the game at 43.

The Sparks eventually led by nine before the Liberty's late 9-0 run.

The Sparks raced to an 18-4 lead to start the game, in part because of New York's 2-of-11 shooting. The Sparks' smothering defense included double-teaming Whitmore and harassing Phillips into a shot-clock violation.

But New York regrouped and used a 20-8 run to trail 26-24 with 3:14 remaining. Phillips scored seven points in the spurt in which the Liberty hit 11 of 14 free throws.

Los Angeles made 5 of 8 free throws over the final 2:28 to lead 31-24 at halftime. The Liberty shot just 20 percent in the half.

Lakers guard Derek Fisher, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers jersey, and actors Jimmy Smits and Michael Clarke Duncan were among the crowd.



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