Los Angeles 71, New York 63
Sparks One Win Away From Second Straight Title
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (Ticker) -- This time, the Los Angeles Sparks delivered most of the blows and are on the verge of delivering the knockout punch to the New York Liberty.
Los Angeles is within one win of earning its second straight title and gets its first chance to end the best-of-three series on Saturday at home. The Sparks were beaten by New York here on July 18 in a contest that featured physical play and several near altercations but were clearly the aggressors on Thursday.
"I think we had a philosophy that started about three years ago that championships are won on the road," Leslie said. "We feel like we have to make the road our home."
The Sparks held a commanding 37-25 edge on the glass, led by Latasha Byears' 11 rebounds. Mabika added eight for Los Angeles, which took advantage of 13 offensive rebounds for an 18-8 edge in second-chance points.
"They are very physical inside," New York coach Richie Adubato said. "They are very aggressive inside. They do their thing. They come after you hard."
New York led by as many as nine points in the first half but Los Angeles closed with a 13-4 run for a 35-35-tie at halftime. The Sparks took the lead for good with a 6-0 run as DeLisha Milton had a pair of baskets and Mabika added a fast-break layup for a 49-43 advantage with 12:16 remaining. Leslie then came up with an emphatic block of a layup attempt by Crystal Robinson.
The Liberty closed within three points on two occasions, the final time on reserve forward Sue Wicks' first 3-pointer of the season to cut the deficit to 64-61 with 1:35 remaining. Milton answered with a jumper and Los Angeles made 5-of-6 foul shots in the final 33 seconds to seal the win.
Milton, whose stellar play in the postseason has resulted in a scoring average of 13.5 points per game, netted 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting in dominating her head-to-head matchup with New York power forward Tamika Whitmore. Whitmore managed just five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
"She's probably the most versatile out of all the post players they have on their team," Milton said. "Tonight that was my job going in, to really stymie her, contest every shot that she took, and just to really stay with her."
The Sparks won despite a freak accident that caused starting guard Tamecka Dixon to miss the contest. Dixon, considered the team's sparkplug, slipped walking off the wet steps of the team bus for the morning practice and injured her right knee and lower back.
"Our president, Johnny Buss, and general manager, Penny Toler, designed this team to have starters backing up starters," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "We have had people out throughout the season and we felt that we weren't going to miss a beat because Latasha Byears came in and a did a wonderful job for us with that physical play that we needed down low."
Byears stepped in for Dixon and contributed her physical presence to give New York problems on both ends. Los Angeles rookie point guard Nikki Teasley handed out a WNBA Finals record 11 assists and outplayed 36-year-old Liberty point guard Teresa Weatherspoon, who was benched down the stretch for her ineffectiveness.
Reserve guard Becky Hammon led New York with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. But the Liberty starting frontcourt of Whitmore, Robinson and Tari Phillips combined to make just 11-of-34 shots.
"It was a very physical game," Adubato said. "They collapsed inside, took our interior game away and we had some serious problems."
The Liberty made nine 3-pointers, a Finals record, but made just 14-of-38 shots from inside the arc for 37 percent. Robinson managed just two of her 13 points in the second half.
New York dropped the opener of a WNBA Finals at home for the third time in as many games. The Liberty have lost the opener in all three playoff series this year.