NEW YORK, Aug. 25 (Ticker) --
The New York Liberty were back home again and are headed back to where they feel they belong.
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scored 19 points as the Liberty advanced to the WNBA Finals for the fourth time with a 64-57 victory over the Washington Mystics.
New York improved to 4-0 at home in this year's postseason, all in elimination games, including Saturday's victory over Washington. The Liberty are 10-3 all-time when facing elimination and will host the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday in the opener of the Finals (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
"The Eastern Conference championship comes through us," New York point guard Teresa Weatherspoon
said. "Now we have a golden opportunity to go back and do something we haven't done."
Tamika Whitmore celebrates the victory.|
Jesse D. Garrabrant/WNBAE/Getty Images
The Liberty won their three previous playoff home games by an average of 17 points and appeared headed for another blowout after back-to-back layups by Tamika Whitmore
closed the first half and built a 38-27 advantage.
But Washington began the second half with a 9-0 run, behind seven points from Chamique Holdsclaw
, to pull within a basket. The game stayed close the rest of the way.
"I thought that in tonight's game we could have folded when it got tight," New York coach Richie Adubato said. "The last five minutes of the game were very tough."
Holdsclaw nailed a jumper to pull the Mystics within 50-48 with just under seven minutes to play. New York responded with two free throws by Sue Wicks
and a 3-pointer by Crystal Robinson
for a seven-point bulge.
made 1-of-2 at the line to cut Washington's deficit to 58-55 with 78 seconds left. New York went to Johnson, who drilled a short baseline jumper with 51 seconds to go.
"I just wanted to come in and help my team," said Johnson, who was mired in a shooting slump before Saturday's 6-of-8 effort. "It felt good to be able to do more than just play defense and rebound."
"I was just so happy," the 36-year-old Weatherspoon said. "This team has gone through so much. Everybody said we're old, we're washed up. That's OK; we're going to have the last laugh."
Tari Phillips added a pair of foul shots and Weatherspoon made a fast-break layup to seal the win. Phillips and Weatherspoon each netted 11 points.
Holdsclaw, a New York native, pumped in 15 of her 19 points in the second half to lead Washington. The Mystics completed the most successful season in team history but were ousted from the playoffs by the Liberty for the second time.
"We went right at New York, we didn't flinch. We just didn't get it done," Washington coach Marianne Stanley said. "They know what to do in crunch time and they got enough to win."
New York shot a WNBA playoff-record 66 percent in Saturday's 96-79 rout that evened the series, thanks to a healthy 48-26 advantage in points in the paint. The Mystics were determined to shut down the interior in Game 3 and were aided when Phillips, who averaged 22 points in the first two games,
suffered a pair of sprained ankles early in the first half.
Whitmore tried to pick up the slack inside with 13 points, but it was New York's outside game that proved decisive. Johnson made 7-of-10 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers.
"We had to get it done from the outside because they really tightened up the inside," Adubato said.
The Liberty still forced the ball inside and took advantage to make 22-of-26 free throws as Phillips was perfect on seven attempts. Washington was 4-of-7 from the line.