NEW YORK (AP) – Betnijah Laney scored 19 points and Jazmine Jones collected 12 of her 17 points in the second half to help New York Liberty rally from an 18-point deficit and beat the Washington Mystics 82-79 on Saturday , spoiling the return of Tina Charles.
The former Liberty star and New York native was traded to Washington in a three-team deal ahead of the 2020 season. The Liberty used the Mystics’ picks 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 tallied five points and assisted on two baskets in the 4:10 final of the game.
âShe was great for us until the end. It was vintage Sabrina, âLiberty coach Walt Hopkins said. “I had to manage her minutes or she would have played a lot more.”
Washington had chances to take the lead in the last 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 chances. Charles passes to Leilani Mitchell in the corner for a missed 3. Charles got the offensive rebound and Zellous missed another jumper.
Charles then circled another panel before she was called up for an offensive foul with 2.3 seconds left.
Laney had two free throws to seal the victory of New York (9-9).
âI missed three key free throws,â Charles said in the closing minutes when she also missed a free throw for technical foul. “Leilani had a great look, (Zellous) had a great look.”
Charles finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds. She has an MVP-like season for Washington (7-10) after being medically exempted last year due to the risk of serious complications from contracting COVID-19. She entered the game averaging 25.5 points and 9.1 rebounds, her career best record.
Rebecca Allen and Reshanda Gray are the only players left from Charles’ time in New York. Allen wore a walking boot on his right foot and missed his third straight game.
âA lot of people have asked me if I’m going to be emotional. My dream was to play at the Garden and that’s what I did. It’s different playing here,â Charles said. âIt’s a whole new organization, totally different people who are here. Bill Laimbeer is not 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 just happens to be in new york for me.
Charles helped Liberty secure the best Eastern Conference record from 2015 to 2017, but the team couldn’t make it to the WNBA Finals.
After the first quarter – in which Charles had six points, three rebounds, two blocks and one steal – the Liberty released a tribute video to the franchise’s all-time top scorer and rebounder. She received a nice standing ovation from the crowd, to which she stood up and greeted.
âIt was cool. I was surprised,â Charles said.
Washington led 28-15 after a quarter.
The Mystics are shorthanded with just eight healthy players. Natasha Cloud trained before the game but was still absent with a sprained right ankle. Elena Delle Donne has not played this season as she recovered from back surgery. Erica McCall (sprained right knee) and Myisha Hines-Allen (sprained left patellar tendon) were also absent.
Jones went fly out of bounds trying to save a ball in the third quarter and jumped over the bench of mystics before knocking down the railing behind him. She was fine, she appeared right after.
âI have to be in Tokyo to do gymnastics,â Jones said. âThat’s what my teammates said. I need to be in Tokyo.
This play came minutes after Didi Richards sprained his neck on a loose ball. She had to be helped off the pitch.
âShe was rocked pretty hard and with her history of injuries, it was pretty scary for her,â Hopkins said.
Mystics: Visit Chicago next Saturday.
Liberty: Host Dallas on Monday.