Liberty 79, Mystics 75

The New York Liberty got a big lift from their return to Madison Square Garden.

Becky Hammon and rookie Shameka Christon scored 18 points apiece Sunday, and the New York Liberty locked up the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 79-75 victory over the Washington Mystics in the regular season finale.

New York, playing at the Garden for the first time since July 18, was 5-1 at Radio City Music Hall while vacating its home for the Republican National Convention.

"Radio City was great, but there's nothing like the Garden," Liberty interim coach Pat Coyle said. "It definitely had an effect late in the game. It was loud. I think they responded to that."

Hammon had six points in the final 36 seconds, and Elena Baranova added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Liberty, winners of three straight and four of its last five.

Washington's Alana Beard scored 23 points -- including 19 straight in the second half -- and Stacey Dales-Schuman added 16 for Washington, which lost for the first time in six games and just the fourth in 11 without Chamique Holdsclaw. The all-star forward ended her season early because of an undisclosed medical problem.

Beard had just two points in the first half and finished 7 for 18 from the field.

"She stepped it up," Mystics Coach Michael Adams said. "In the first half, she didn't score so much. For us to have success, we need her to be successful out there, but we don't want her to force shots just to be scoring."

The Mystics will open a best-of-three playoff series when they host Connecticut on Saturday. Games 2 and 3 are scheduled for Monday and next Wednesday in Connecticut.

After jumpers by Tamicha Jackson and Coco Miller gave Washington a 68-65 lead with three minutes remaining, New York scored nine straight points to take the lead for good. The Liberty finished the game on a 14-5 run.

"It seemed like when we got stopped, they came back with a punch," Beard said. "Just give them credit."

Hammon hit a three-pointer with 35.6 seconds left to push New York's lead to 74-68.

"The [shot] before that she had rushed, but on this one she had taken her time and kept her follow-through up and she stayed with her shot," Coyle said.

Dales-Schuman followed with her own three-pointer nine seconds later, but Hammon made 3 of 4 free throws to push the lead back to six with 17.7 seconds left. Hammon also made a pair of free throws with 6.9 seconds left to seal the win.

"We didn't get the defensive rebounds when we needed to," Adams said. "They got some offensive rebounds and that was the key. . . . We didn't go inside enough in the second half."

Bethany Donaphin scored 10 points for New York, which opens the best-of-three first round on the road against third seed and defending champion Detroit on Friday night.

* SUN 80, FEVER 60: Reserve Asjha Jones scored a season-high 16 points, and Connecticut clinched the regular season Eastern Conference title for the first time in its six-year history with a victory in Uncasville, Conn.

Jones made all eight of her free throws and helped lead the Sun's reserves, who combined for 41 points.

* SHOCK 68, STING 64: Cheryl Ford and Barbara Farris each scored 15 points to help Detroit, at home, clinch the third seed in the East. The Shock will play New York in the first round of the playoffs.

"I don't really care who we play," Coach Bill Laimbeer said, "because we are going to win the Eastern Conference."

The Shock led 27-23 at halftime despite hitting only five of its first 21 shots.

* MERCURY 78, COMETS 46: Plenette Pierson and Anna DeForge each scored 24 points to lead host Phoenix in the season finale for both teams.

Tina Thompson had 17 for Houston (13-21), which wrapped up its worst season ever and missed the playoffs for the first time.

* MONARCHS 72, LYNX 63: Yolanda Griffith had 18 points and seven rebounds to lift Sacramento at home.

The Monarchs finished 18-16 and own the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They'll take a three-game winning streak into Los Angeles on Friday.

Mystics' Alana Beard makes her way past the Liberty's Bethany Donaphin during the first-half action.