8:00 PM ET, September 28, 2004
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
NEW YORK -- Bethany Donaphin didn't have time to think when she got the ball with the score tied and the clock winding down in regulation.Donaphin hit a turnaround jumper with .5 seconds remaining to lift the New York Liberty into the Eastern Conference finals with a 66-64 victory over the WNBA champion Detroit Shock on Tuesday night."I had to get up a shot," said Donaphin, who finished with six points. "The play was for Crystal (Robinson) and the play broke down. That's why I got that shot."Becky Hammon, who made the pass to Donaphin for the winning basket, scored a playoff career-high 20 points and Robinson added 17 -- including three 3-pointers in the final 5½ minutes -- for New York, which trailed by 15 points in the opening minute of the second half."It was a middle pick-and-roll," Liberty interim coach Pat Coyle said. "Crystal was in the right corner and Becky decided to go and she got hung up on the baseline and found Bethany. I was glad she decided to shoot it and not pass it."New York will play the winner of the Washington-Connecticut semifinal. The conference final starts Friday.Detroit won its last three games to finish a disappointing 17-17 and earned a chance to defend its title on the last day of the season."I told them from the start of this year exactly what they had to do to win the championship,'' Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. "They had to execute the game so well it took other team's hearts. They had to not turn the ball over, not give second shots, and they had to make free throws. If they do those things, there's no team in this league that can touch them."It wasn't meant to be this year," he said.Deanna Nolan had 16 points and eight rebounds, Cheryl Ford added 13 points and nine rebounds and Merlakia Jones also scored 13 points.Elena Baranova banked in a 3-pointer for New York with 2:16 remaining to tie it at 57. It was the first tie since Detroit took the lead just three minutes into the game.Robinson's last 3 put the Liberty up 60-58 with 1:37 remaining, their first lead since early in the first half.After Ford tied the game with two free throws 24 seconds later, Robinson hit a layup with 55 seconds remaining to give New York a 62-60 lead. Vickie Johnson stretched the lead to three with a free throw 15 seconds later.Ruth Riley closed Detroit's deficit to one with two free throws with 16 seconds left, and Baranova pushed the lead back up to two with a free throw 1.7 seconds later.Nolan then tied the game for the last time with a driving layup with 12 seconds remaining."We gave them the opportunity to win the game, and they did it," Laimbeer said. "They had to make some tough shots to do it. We put ourselves in this position."Leading by six points with about seven minutes remaining in the game, Detroit missed five of six free throws on consecutive possessions."We had a chance to close this team out," Jones said. "Turnovers and free throws is what killed us at the end."Robinson followed with a pair of 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 53-52 with just over five minutes left."She got us going in a big way with those two 3s," Coyle said. "She has done that since I have been here. She did a good job of getting hot, but we did a good job of finding her also."Detroit ended the first half on a 10-0 run over the final 2:54 to take a 37-24 lead."At halftime there was no need to yell, get upset," Coyle said. "They understood the hole we were in. There was no quit in that locker room. Our players came out and played really well in the second half on both ends of the floor. It was an incredible gut check."Riley's layup 16 seconds into the second half gave Detroit its biggest advantage of the game and set up the Shock's largest blown lead this season."As soon as we came out in the second half, we weren't as focused as we should have been," Laimbeer said. "We came out with turnovers to begin the second half. We are not seasoned enough."Detroit played its last five games without leading scorer Swin Cash, who tore knee ligaments on Sept. 11. Cash had surgery on her knee in Detroit on Monday.
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