The first players to take the court at Madison Square Garden for the Liberty back in 1997 returned Sunday and were treated to an overtime battle between 2016’s top scorers.
Tina Charles scored 26 points to boost her league-leading scoring average, but it was not enough as Diana Taurasi’s Phoenix Mercury defeated the Liberty, 104-97, at the Garden.
Taurasi entered the game averaging 20.4 points per game, trailing only Charles (22.3).
Charles hit a driving layup over 6-8 center Brittney Griner to give the Liberty (10-5) an 89-86 lead with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but on the ensuing Mercury possession, Taurasi (24 points) was fouled on a three-point attempt.
The former MVP made all three free throws with eight seconds remaining to send the game to overtime, and Phoenix outscored the Liberty 15-8.
Though the ending was less than ideal for the Liberty, players said the pregame ceremony honoring the debut team was memorable.
Eleven of the 12 members of the team that made its Garden debut on June 29, 1997, against Phoenix were in attendance, including the starting lineup of Teresa Weatherspoon, Rebecca Lo bo, Vickie Johnson, Sue Wicks and Kym Hampton.
“It was pretty sweet to be a part of that,” said Charles, who was 12-for-27 from the field.
“The moment [teammate Carolyn Swords] and myself enjoyed was the starting lineup [being introduced]. They showed the comparison from back in the day and where they are now.”
“What an honor and a privilege to be here for this kind of an event,” Swords said. “Announcing the team and getting to see some footage of them in their Liberty gear, it was really a special moment and a great motivation to honor their legacy.
“Hearing about them and reading about them, it just gave me a visual for a dream of playing basketball,” she added.
As for the team’s star of the present, Charles continued to show her array of moves in the post and mid-range that have her on pace to break Cappie Pondexter’s franchise record for points per game in a single season (21.4 in 2010).
It was not enough to hold off Phoenix (6-9), though. Taurasi started and finished strong, scoring eight points in the first quarter and 11 in the fourth. Teammate Candice Dupree scored 26.
Still, the Liberty’s Sugar Rodgers (23 points) said Sunday was about more than just the game.
“Seeing who paved the way for me to have this opportunity here, it was a great experience,” she said of the WNBA players of the past. “We don’t always appreciate what people did back then. In reality, they worked hard for us to be here and I appreciate everything they did.”