Mystics 62, Liberty 60
Washington Mystics star Chamique Holdsclaw tweaked her left knee, never went to the free throw line and missed nearly all of her shots yesterday afternoon.
Late in the second half, she turned to Coach Michael Adams and said: "I feel terrible. This is as bad as it gets."
Then she hit the game-winning shot.
With 2.4 seconds left and the game tied, Holdsclaw made a 15-foot, fadeaway jumper to give the Mystics a 62-60 win over the New York Liberty at Comcast Center. The shot saved Holdsclaw's afternoon. And, to hear her teammates talk, it also may have saved Washington's young season.
The win, which improved the Mystics to 3-5, marks the team's first victory at home this season. Washington usually plays at MCI Center, but a Madonna concert forced the crowd of 8,784 to watch in College Park.
"I can't tell you how badly we needed that final shot," Mystics rookie guard Alana Beard said. "Before [Chamique] made it, everything seemed to be going against us. We were so low, and we had no momentum. Now we've got something to go on."
In an early season filled with forgettable moments, Washington may never have felt much lower than it did in the seconds before Holdsclaw's shot. After grabbing a seven-point lead with 2 minutes 30 seconds left, the Mystics slowly let New York (6-3) back into the game by missing free throws and easy layups.
Then, with 8.5 seconds left, Liberty star point guard Becky Hammon came off a screen and nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 60 and set the stage for Holdsclaw's heroics.
"It looked like we had them," Liberty Coach Richie Adubato said. "We did everything we could down the stretch, and for a while there, they didn't have anybody stepping up."
Not even Holdsclaw, the WNBA's leading scorer at 21 points per game. The perennial all-star spent most of yesterday afternoon either grimacing or frowning. She scored 14 points, making just 7 of 20 shots, thanks to double-teaming defense and a slightly inflamed left knee that she expects to heal later this week.
Forward Chasity Melvin picked up much of the slack, scoring a season-high 15 points.
But, when it came time for Adams to draw up his last-second play, he never thought twice about who would get the ball.
"I gave it to my best player," Adams said. "I wanted to get the ball to Chamique and put everyone else on the baseline. It was her game to win."
"I felt confident that I'd hit it," said Holdsclaw, who had a game-high 14 rebounds. "I love that shot, a 15-footer late in the game. I know that I'm going to make that most of the time, even when my game feels off."
Early in the game, Holdsclaw told Adams that she wanted the ball more. After watching her team turn over the ball 12 times in the first half and miss four layups, Holdsclaw walked to the sideline before one timeout and said: "Every play, the ball comes into my hands. Every time, I want the ball."
She rarely received it. In the first half, she scored just four points, her lowest 20-minute total of the season.
Despite their offensive ineptitude, the Mystics played their best defense of the season in the first half and took a 24-23 lead into the break.
Washington's guards pressed Hammon, swarming her as soon as she crossed half court. When Hammon was lucky enough to throw a good pass, her teammates made just 33 percent of their shots.
"We had a pretty good all-around performance," Adams said. "Our defense was pretty good. This is really the first time I can think of where we played a game for the full 40 minutes. This gives us an idea of what we are capable of."