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Los Angeles holds off N.Y. for title

©Associated Press
September 1, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- The Sparks made sure that the WNBA champions list remained at two teams.

Rookie Nikki Teasley hit a 3-pointer for the go-ahead basket with 2.1 seconds remaining and the Sparks beat the New York Liberty 69-66 Saturday to successfully defend their title.

"I've never hit a game-winning shot. I've won an AAU tournament when I was 10 years old, but nothing ever big, nothing in college," Teasley said. "I didn't get to play in the state championships in high school, but I'll you what, I'm not disappointed because this is the one to get."

The Houston Comets claimed the first four WNBA titles.

Lisa Leslie scored 17 points, Mwadi Mabika added 12 and Teasley had 11 points and 11 assists as the Sparks rallied in the second half after squandering a 14-point lead.

Leslie was selected the most valuable player of the title series for the second year in a row.

"This championship was so much harder to win," Leslie said. "We had to find different ways to win. We've held our own, we've been strong and it's just an amazing feeling."

Confetti doused the delirious Staples Center crowd as security staff roped off the floor and the Sparks mobbed each other at midcourt.

Los Angeles became the second team in league history to go undefeated in the playoffs. Its 6-0 record included best-of-three sweeps of Seattle and Utah. Houston went undefeated twice, in 1997 and 2000.

"Hey, if you're playing for an L.A. team, you're bound to get a championship," Sparks forward DeLisha Milton said. "There is something special about this city. It breeds championships."

A devastated Teresa Weatherspoon bent down on one knee and held her head in her hand after the Liberty lost in the title series for the fourth time, including three to Houston. New York finished 0-3 in road playoff games this season.

Los Angeles finished with a 31-7 record, including a nine-game winning streak. The Sparks have won nine consecutive playoff games, dating to Aug. 26, 2001.

Tari Phillips hit a jumper to tie the score at 66 with 18 seconds left. It capped a 9-0 spurt by New York, which held a one-point lead earlier in the half, then trailed by nine with 4:25 remaining.

Tamika Whitmore and Vicki Johnson each scored 17 points for the Liberty.

ALL-WNBA TEAM: Leslie and Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes were the leading vote-getters. Leslie earned her fourth selection, receiving 300 points from a panel of 60 national sports writers and broadcasters. This season she became the first WNBA player to get 3,000 career points and recorded the league's first dunk. Swoopes was second in the voting with 294 points. Indiana forward Tamika Catchings and Seattle guard Sue Bird became the first rookies to earn first-team honors. Mabika, Leslie's teammate on the Sparks, was selected for the first time. Guards Shannon Johnson of Orlando and Katie Smith of Minnesota, Phillips, New York's center, and forwards Chamique Holdsclaw of Washington and Tina Thompson of Houston made the second team.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: For much of the first half, the sight on the scoreboard in Indianapolis was shocking. The U.S. team was losing, and the score wasn't close.

China nearly became the first team to hold a halftime lead against the United States since NBA players began competing internationally in 1992, but the U.S. team recovered from its poor start to win 84-65.

China held a 28-16 lead after one quarter and remained ahead for all but the final 6.5 seconds of the second quarter. The U.S. team took the lead for good with about four minutes left in the third quarter but didn't close out the lightly regarded Chinese until Jermaine O'Neal scored inside with about 6 1/2 minutes left for a 69-58 lead.

In other games it was Turkey 107, Lebanon 80; Russia 86, Venezuela 69; Yugoslavia 87, Canada 71; Spain 88, Angola 55; Germany 102, Algeria 70; Argentina 110, New Zealand 85; and Brazil 90, Puerto Rico 86.

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