WASHINGTON, July 15 (Ticker) — The WNBA All-Star Game remained Lisa Leslie’s personal showcase.
Leslie collected 18 points and 14 rebounds and came up with two key blocks down the stretch as the Western Conference recorded its fourth straight win in the WNBA Midseason Classic, 81-76 over the Eastern Conference.
The leader of the reigning WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks, Leslie was named All-Star Most Valuable Player for the third time. She made 6-of-13 shots from the field, 6-of-10 from the free-throw line and was credited with four blocked shots.
“There were so many players on our team that could have been MVP,” Leslie said. “I started rebounding and that was pretty much the key to getting the MVP award.
“I told (my teammates) in the second half we had to come out and play serious now. It was 40-40 and I was going to go inside. That made the difference, getting us second opportunities on the boards, both offensively and defensively, in getting the awards.”
Moments after Leslie twice rejected Tari Phillips, the New York Liberty was called for a foul on an apparently clean block with 51 seconds to play. Tina Thompson of the Houston Comets made both free throws to put the West in front for good, 77-76.
“To me, it was a foul. Good call, ref,” Thompson joked. “If you question the official’s call, you’ll be doing it all game. If they make a call, it’s going to stay that way. I’ll take those free throws all day.”
Charlotte Sting guard Andrea Stinson missed a runner with 36 seconds left and Leslie stripped the ball from Phillips 11 seconds later. Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes made two foul shots and Thompson was 2-of-2 from the line after Phillips fouled out with four seconds to play.
Thompson led all scorers with 20 points and Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm added 15 off the bench.
“I’m kind of surprised that previous All-Star Games weren’t a little closer because we’re looking at some of the same players that have been there throughout,” Thompson said. “In those last couple of minutes, when the game was close, it got really serious. We sort of stepped up as a group and said it’s time to get it done.”
Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever scored 12 points but was the only player in double figures for the East, which got nine apiece from Stinson, Nykesha Sales of the Orlando Miracle, Tammy Sutton-Brown of the Sting and Penny Taylor of the Cleveland Rockers.
“I think the East has come a long way from getting blown out,” Catchings said of the closest All-Star Game in WNBA history. “We had a chance. We had our chance to win it. That says a lot.”
The teams battled to a 40-40 halftime deadlock, but the East did not take its first lead until Phillips sank two free throws to make it 50-48 with just over 16 minutes left. But Tamecka Dixon of the Sparks answered with a 3-pointer for the West.
The East shot just 33 percent (28-of-84) from the field and was outrebounded, 50-44. The West were not much better at 38 percent (31-of-81), making just 4-of-22 3-pointers.