WASHINGTON (AP) - Trailing by nine points with about nine minutes remaining, a loss to last place Washington could have dealt a serious blow to the New York Liberty's playoff chances.
However, thanks to Cappie Pondexter, Nicole Powell and some stifling defense, the Liberty remain in control of their future.
Pondexter had 30 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and 11 rebounds as the Liberty rallied to beat the Mystics 75-68.
``Defense is our key,' Liberty coach John Whisenant said. ``And Cappie. She's been awesome. She's our MVP and the most important player to her team of anybody in the league.'
Powell scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter as well and Essence Carson added 15 points as New York (14-17) won its third straight.
The Liberty retained a one game lead over Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sky beat Phoenix 86-55.
Jasmine Thomas scored 16 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) and Monique Currie had 12 to lead the Washington (5-27), which has lost 11 straight.
``I think we played a tough game. We fought through until the end,' Currie said. ``They executed better than we did. They made some tough shots, some big shots.'
After Washington scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take a 56-49 lead, Pondexter scored the first six of an 8-0 run by the Liberty. The Mystics pushed the lead to 63-58 with 4:36 left and New York called timeout.
``When it looked like they could take over the game with about four minutes left, we had a time out, talked about it, and regrouped,' Pondexter said.
Powell's 3-pointer tied the score at 63 with 2:50 left and her short jumper gave the Liberty a 67-65 lead with 1:34 to play.
``Nicole made some huge shots down the stretch,' Pondexter said.
After a miss by Currie, Kara Braxton scored on a layup off a nice pass from Pondexter to make it 69-65 with 48 seconds left.
``I think we stepped up our defensive intensity when it mattered most,' Pondexter said.
Matee Ajavon missed a short jumper and Pondexter hit two three throws. Thomas's 3-pointer made it 71-68 with 19 seconds to go, but the Mystics got no closer.
``Coming into the stretch I don't know if it's a loss of focus, or what it is, but we have to figure it out,' said Thomas.
The Liberty outrebounded the Mystics 13-4 in the fourth quarter.
``We only gave them one shot so we were blocking out well,' Whisenant said. ``Nicole Powell got a couple of rebound putbacks that were critical when the basket was shrinking up on us a little bit.'
The Mystics' Ashley Robinson finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Washington outscored New York 19-12 in the third quarter and built a five-point lead as the Liberty hit just 5-of-22 field goals.
Washington played without leading scorer Crystal Langhorne (14.7 ppg), who left Friday's loss to Atlanta with a left foot sprain, and Noelle Quinn (6.5 ppg), out with an injured right shoulder.
The Associated Press News Service
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