Liberty hold on to beat Sparks in WNBA celebratory matchup

New York Liberty forward Rebecca Allen, center, celebrates with teammates as she and Liberty forward Kia Nurse, right, exit the court at halftime.(Kathy Willens/AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly 24 years to the day that the New York Liberty tipped off the WNBA with a win over the Los Angeles Sparks, Rebecca Allen made sure that the Liberty prevailed again.

Allen scored a season-high 17 points and had two blocked shots in the final minute of New York’s 76-73 victory on Sunday in what was billed as "The ’97 Game" by the WNBA. The inaugural game was played on June 21, 1997, at the Great Western Forum, which the Liberty won 67-57.

New York, Los Angeles and the Phoenix Mercury are the league’s three remaining original teams.

"It means a lot to play in the game and get the win," said Liberty center Kylee Shook, who had 11 rebounds. "Just for the fact that the people who built this before I got here, it’s an amazing league to be in."

New York had a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter, but saw Los Angeles go on a 21-7 run to tie it at 58 going into the final 10 minutes. Allen had two blocked shots in the final minute, including one on a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Kristi Toliver with 8.2 seconds remaining. Allen made a pair of free throws after a loose ball foul by Toliver to give the Liberty a three-point advantage.

Sami Whitcomb scored 17 and Betnijah Laney 14 for the Liberty, who won despite committing a WNBA season-high 30 turnovers but scored 19 points off offensive rebounds.

Los Angeles had a chance to send it into overtime, but Nia Coffey missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Erica Wheeler had 20 points and 10 assists for the Sparks while Coffey and Toliver scored 15 apiece.

"I’m definitely proud to be a part of the league. It’s special to be in Los Angeles with the team itself, the history that they have created so being here means a lot," Wheeler said. "I’m just thankful that I’m on this team and in a league that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary."

The game was played at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Sparks are playing at the Convention Center instead of their usual home at Staples Center until after the Olympic break after the arena was reserved for playoff runs by both the Lakers and Clippers.

While 14,284 fans watched the first game at the Forum, only 731 viewed Sunday’s game due to the limited capacity.

"Just to think about the history of this league and where it is only 25 years into its existence it’s amazing," Sparks coach and GM Derek Fisher said. "I think the league office is working really hard to grow the game on the global stage. And, you know, we just have to keep doing the work."

The league has 12 teams this season, but many are hoping to see expansion in upcoming season. Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBA Players Association, said one of her hopes is that the league could eventually have teams in every city that has an NBA franchise.

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