Liberty rally from 18 down to beat Charles and Mystics 82-79
NEW YORK (AP) — Betnijah Laney scored 19 points and Jazmine Jones had 12 of her 17 points in the second half to help the New York Liberty rally from an 18-point deficit and beat the Washington Mystics 82-79 on Saturday, spoiling the homecoming of Tina Charles.
The former Liberty star and native New Yorker was traded to Washington as part of a three-team deal before the 2020 season. The Liberty used the picks they got from the Mystics to draft Jones and Leaonna Odom.
Charles helped Washington build an 18-point halftime advantage before New York rallied behind Jones to take an 80-79 lead with 52.1 seconds left on Reshanda Gray’s layup on a pass from Sabrina Ionescu. The 2020 No. 1 pick had five points and assisted on two baskets in the final 4:10 of the game.
“She was big for us down the stretch. That was vintage Sabrina,” Liberty coach Walt Hopkins said. “Had to manage her minutes or she would have played a lot more.”
Washington had chances to take the lead in the final minute, but Charles missed two free throws with 52.1 seconds left. After an offensive foul with 23.6 seconds left by New York, the Mystics had three more opportunities. Charles passed to Leilani Mitchell in the corner for a 3 that missed. Charles got the offensive rebound and Zellous missed another jumper.
Charles then corralled one more board before she was called for an offensive foul with 2.3 seconds left.
Laney hit two free throws to seal the win for New York (9-9).
“I missed three key free throws,” said Charles of the last few minutes when she also missed a technical foul free throw. “Leilani had a great look, (Zellous) had a great look.”
Charles finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds. She is having an MVP-type season for Washington (7-10) after getting medical exemption last year because of the risk of severe complications from contracting COVID-19. She came into the game averaging a career-best 25.5 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Rebecca Allen and Reshanda Gray are the only players left from Charles’ time in New York. Allen was in a walking boot on her right foot and missed her third straight game.
“A Lot of people asked me if I was going to be emotional. My dream was to play at the Garden and that’s what I did. It’s different playing here,” Charles said. “This is a total new organization, total different people who are here. Bill Laimbeer isn’t here, Dan Padover, Kristin Bernert. The people who believed in me and brought me here. If they were still here it would be a whole different story. Playing against a team that happens to be in New York for me.”
Charles helped the Liberty to the best record in the Eastern Conference from 2015-17, but the team couldn’t get to the WNBA Finals.
After the first quarter — in which Charles had six points, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal — the Liberty played a video tribute to the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She got a nice ovation from the crowd, which she stood and waved to.
“That was cool. I was surprised,” Charles said.
Washington led 28-15 after one quarter.
The Mystics are short-handed with only eight healthy players. Natasha Cloud worked out before the game, but was still out with a sprained right ankle. Elena Delle Donne hasn’t played this season while recovering from back surgery. Erica McCall (right knee sprain) and Myisha Hines-Allen (left patellar tendon strain) also were out.
Jones went flying out of bounds trying to save a ball in the third quarter and jumped over the Mystics bench before flipping over the railing behind it. She was fine, popping right up afterwards.
“I need to be in Tokyo doing gymnastics,” Jones said. “That’s what my teammates said. I need to be in Tokyo.”
That play came a few minutes after Didi Richards sprained her neck on a loose ball. She had to be helped off the court.
“She got rocked pretty hard and with her injury history it was pretty scary for her,” Hopkins said.
Mystics: Visit Chicago next Saturday.
Liberty: Host Dallas on Monday.
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