Mystics 82, Liberty 69

After everything went so wrong during a season-long five-game losing streak, things suddenly broke right for the Washington Mystics last night. First, the Mystics took an 82-69 overtime victory over the New York Liberty before 6,010 at MCI Center.

As they iced the win over a New York squad that had beaten them three times this season, the Mystics (15-17) could look at the scoreboard and see that the team ahead of them in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Shock, had suffered a 56-49 loss to the last-place Charlotte Sting.

Washington, which outscored New York 19-6 in overtime, can move past Detroit (15-17) and grab the fourth playoff spot by winning at Connecticut on Friday and by beating Detroit at MCI Center in the regular season finale Saturday. Detroit, which will host Indiana tomorrow, leads the season series with the Mystics 2-1.

"We're not dead yet," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato declared. "The fat lady hasn't sung yet. She was spraying her throat there for a while but she didn't sing. We still have a chance."

The Mystics put themselves in position to make the final two games count because they played their most inspired basketball since beating Indiana on Aug. 7. Center Chasity Melvin set the tone early by making four of her first five shots and by scoring eight of Washington's first 20 points. Melvin matched her career high with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting and had nine rebounds in 42 minutes.

And Melvin's efforts carried over to her teammates. Just three days after being shoved all over the place by the more physical Shock, the Mystics held a 39-26 advantage in rebounding, a 38-26 advantage in points in the lane and were clearly the more aggressive team in overtime.

Melvin did her damage around and directly underneath the basket, often outworking Elena Baranova for position and rebounds. Melvin's 12 points and four rebounds in the first half allowed the Mystics to take a 35-31 halftime lead despite shooting 38.9 percent.

The Mystics held a slight lead for most of the second half but things appeared ready to fall apart with just under four minutes remaining. With the Mystics leading 57-54, New York's Vickie Johnson went to the line and made her first free throw. Johnson missed the second but snatched the rebound and later in the possession knocked down a three-pointer, giving the Liberty a 58-57 lead.

Rather than fold, the Mystics bounced back thanks to the kind of play that was absent during the five-game skid. After an offensive rebound and layup by Coco Miller gave Washington a 59-58 lead, veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones crept up and stole the inbounds pass from all-star point guard Becky Hammon and made the layup, giving Washington a 61-58 lead.

New York sandwiched a pair of Hammon free throws and another Johnson three-pointer around a jump hook by Melvin to cap scoring in regulation. The Mystics had a chance to win in regulation but Alana Beard's twisting, pull-up jump shot from about 15 feet missed the rim and glanced off the corner of the backboard with six-tenths of a second remaining.

The Mystics took control of overtime with a 9-2 run that included a layup by Melvin, a three-pointer by Charlotte Smith-Taylor and a tough, fade-away jumper by Beard. Washington, which entered the game ranked 12th in team free throw shooting, made all 12 of its free throws in overtime.

"I was just tired of losing," Melvin said. "Basketball is a game of runs and it was time for us to come out and get a win."

Detroit Upset in Charlotte

If Detroit fails to make the playoffs, it can point to an inability to beat the league's worst team as one of the reasons. Sheri Sam and Teana Miller scored 12 points apiece as the Charlotte Sting damaged the Shock's playoff hopes with a 56-49 victory at home.

The Sting (5-27) overcame 18 turnovers and the absence of leading scorer Tangela Smith to end a five-game losing streak and win for only the second time in 17 games.

Both victories were over Detroit (15-17).

"It was apparent as soon as we got off the bus we weren't coming to play hard," said Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer. "This is one of the worst games we've ever played. It's very disturbing."

* MONARCHS 76, MERCURY 70: Yolanda Griffith had 24 points and 10 rebounds as host Sacramento won its fourth straight and 11th in 12 games.

The Monarchs (24-8) pulled even with Connecticut for the best record in the WNBA.

* FEVER 69, SUN 63: Tamika Catchings scored 18 points and grabbed a key defensive rebound in the closing seconds in Uncasville, Conn.

* STORM 78, SILVER STARS 51: In San Antonio, Betty Lennox and Tanisha Wright led defending champion Seattle back into the playoffs.

Lennox, playing for the first time in six games since partially tearing ligaments in her left wrist, scored 12 points in 14 minutes. Wright added 12 points.

* SPARKS 73, LYNX 63: Chamique Holdsclaw had 20 points and eight rebounds and tied a career high with seven assists for host Los Angeles.

Chasity Melvin heads toward the basket for Washington. Melvin matched her career high with 30 points in a home win over New York that tied Washington with Detroit for the final playoff spot in the WNBA's Eastern Conference.