Archive for Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Charlotte advances to conference finals

August 21, 2001

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— Now the Charlotte Sting have saved their postseason, too.

Overcoming a 1-10 regular-season start to make the playoffs, Charlotte extended its postseason on Monday night with a 72-64 victory over the Cleveland Rockers to advance to the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals.

And in Sting style, Charlotte completed another turnaround to get there.

After being dominated on the boards in an 18-point loss in Game 2, the Sting outrebounded the Rockers 35-19 in the decisive game of the best-of-three conference semifinals.

"We've made adjustments and improved all season," Charlotte coach Anne Donovan said. "I'm so proud of the way we've come back."

When the final horn sounded, Charlotte's players hugged in a group as the Rockers and most of the 12,527 fans who rocked Gund Arena, stared in disbelief.

"Let's get out of here," Charlotte's Dawn Staley yelled to her teammates as if the Sting had just stolen the series and needed to make a getaway.

But the Sting showed more poise and leadership than the young Rockers, who were outmuscled on both ends.

Reserve Tonya Edwards scored 15 points, Andrea Stinson had 14, and rookie Tammy Sutton-Brown and Shalonda Enis added 12 apiece for the Sting.

Charlotte's season was headed for disaster after it dropped to 1-10 after a loss to Sacramento on June 24. But the Sting have gone 19-5 since, and the reversal can be traced to Sutton-Brown's insertion into the starting lineup.

"It's not a coincidence," Donovan said. "Tammy brings a presence in the low post and that frees up our perimeter. She's such an integral part of our game, of our turnaround."

The Sting built a 13-point lead in the second half and held off the Rockers, whose season ended with just their third loss in 18 home games this season.

Charlotte's bench outscored Cleveland's 31-14, and the Sting outscored the Rockers 44-24 inside.

Merlakia Jones led Cleveland with 13 points, but the Rockers couldn't get the big rebound or defensive stop in the final two minutes and watched their season end for the third time in four years in the postseason.

"It's heartbreaking," Jones said. "But we've been through this before and we'll come back and try again."

The Sting will face the winner of the Miami-New York semifinal series in the conference finals. The Sol and Liberty, tied 1-1, will play Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

"This is not a temporary thing," Donovan said. "This is a team to be reckoned with a very serious team."

Sparks 70, Comets 58

Los Angeles Lisa Leslie had 28 points and 18 rebounds and Los Angeles swept four-time defending champion Houston out of the WNBA playoffs for the first time. The Sparks won their 17th consecutive game at Staples Center, where they went 16-0 in the regular season. They swept the best-of-three series and advanced to the Western Conference finals against Sacramento beginning Friday. Houston's loss means the league will have a new champion for the first time in its five-year history.

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