Stifled and successful all at once last night, Nikki McCray and the Washington Mystics were able to squeeze out what they needed. McCray scored her 1,000th career point and the Mystics scored their fifth straight win, a 59-56 overtime victory over the New York Liberty before 15,388 at MCI Center.
The win, the Mystics' third of the season against Eastern Conference-leading New York, puts Washington (11-17) only 1 1/2 games out of the third playoff spot in the East with four games left. The Mystics moved into fourth place past idle Orlando (10-16). Detroit (12-15), which is in third place, lost to Phoenix last night.
McCray's three-pointer with 2 minutes 10 seconds left in overtime gave the Mystics a 57-54 lead. From there, Chamique Holdsclaw scored two free throws to seal the win.
The game almost went into double overtime but Liberty guard Teresa Weatherspoon missed a breakaway layup after stealing the ball from Holdsclaw with 13 seconds left. After the miss, Holdsclaw smiled, shook her head, and pointed above. "I just thanked God that she missed," Holdsclaw said. "Oh, man, I was so thankful."
The win again showcased Washington's defense. The Mystics outrebounded New York 49-38 and had nine players with multiple rebounds, including Holdsclaw, who had a team-high 14.
"With our game against Cleveland [an 80-45 win Sunday], this is the best defense we've played this year," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "What makes our rebounding more impressive is that we did it without our best rebounder for part of the game."
Center Murriel Page fouled out with 3:58 left in the game. But after she left, backups Heather Owen (four rebounds) and Shalonda Enis (six) carried the Mystics' rebounding load.
Despite the unrelenting pace of the game, neither team was especially sharp offensively. The Mystics made 17 of 59 shots and the Liberty hit 16 of 64, setting a team record for fewest field goals in a game and tying a league record. The combined total of 33 field goals was the fewest in WNBA history.
Still, the game was for anyone's taking. Moments after Page fouled out, McCray hit a free throw to notch her 1,000th career point. The game was stopped moments later, but the shot gave Washington a 44-43 lead.
McCray (20 points) then hit four free throws, the last of which gave Washington a 50-45 lead with 1:52 left.
"I didn't shoot well tonight, and I missed a lot of easy shots," said McCray, who left the game momentarily in the first half with a bruised left hip. "But I hit some threes, and we were able to hold them down the stretch."
New York came back on Vickie Johnson's layup with 1:38 left, and then center Tamika Whitmore hit two free throws to cut Washington's lead to 52-49.
With 15.8 seconds left, Weatherspoon made a three-pointer to tie the game at 52. Enis, who didn't start after missing the last three games with the flu, missed a three-pointer off the front of the rim as time expired, and the teams went to overtime.
They traded baskets early, and after a three-second violation on New York, McCray hit a three-pointer to give the Mystics a 57-54 lead with 2:10 left. After two New York free throws and one by Holdsclaw, Washington tried to protect a 58-56 lead and run out the clock with less than a minute left.
Holdsclaw stood with the ball near midcourt, waiting to be fouled by Weatherspoon. When Weatherspoon didn't foul, Holdsclaw tried to drive to the basket with the shot clock running down. But Weatherspoon stole the ball and appeared to have an uncontested layup.
"I looked down and she was only a step ahead of me, so I reached my arm out and she changed her shot just enough," Holdsclaw said.
The miss sent the crowd into a frenzy and Weatherspoon to the floor with her head down. "I just lost the ball," she said.
Darsch is 3-0 against New York, which fired her last fall after two years with the team. "Can I beat them enough?" she said. "You know I can't answer that."
But then she smiled, and her grin was all the answer necessary.
MERCURY 68, SHOCK 57: Maria Stepanova recorded her fourth straight double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds as host Phoenix kept its slim playoff hopes alive. Jennifer Gillom scored 14 points and Lisa Harrison 10 for the Mercury, who trail Los Angeles and Sacramento by 4 1/2 games for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference with five games left.
LYNX 83, STARZZ 73: Katie Smith scored 27 points and Sonja Tate added 19, both career highs, as host Minnesota downed Utah. Tonya Edwards added 21 points for Minnesota, which ended a four-game losing streak to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.