Charlotte made 12 of its first 16 shots of the second half and the New York Liberty couldn't overcome the loss of leader Teresa Weatherspoon as the Sting took a 78-67 victory in the opener of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals tonight.

"She is such an outstanding defender that she sometimes creates an attitude that you have to play against," Charlotte Coach Dan Hughes said of Weatherspoon, who fouled out with about eight minutes left. "So, not having her on the floor was tough for New York. It allowed us to do some things offensively."

Dawn Staley, Rhonda Mapp and Andrea Stinson scored 16 points each to lead the Sting, which improved to 9-1 this season when breaking the 70-point barrier.

Crystal Robinson led the Liberty with 17 points.

Meanwhile, New York, the winner of the conference title during the regular season, lost for only the sixth time in 34 games over a two-year span when leading at halftime.

The Liberty now faces elimination when the best-of-three series resumes Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The Sting trailed by three at halftime, but took control of the game when Weatherspoon, second in the WNBA in assists, picked up two fouls within a four-second span early in the second half, and then fouled out with 7:48 left with Charlotte up by five.

Charlotte's lead increased to 10 points less than a minute later as Niesa Johnson hit a shot in the lane and Stinson scored on a fast-break basket.

Charlotte, which trailed by seven in the first half, tied the score at 42 on a three-pointer by Staley. The score was tied five more times before Charlotte Smith hit a 15-footer with 10:31 left to give the Sting the lead for good.

Robinson scored eight of her 10 first-half points over the final 2:58 of the period, hitting a driving layup, a three-pointer and a turnaround banker as the Liberty held a 36-33 halftime lead. New York committed only one first-half turnover.