Little, Bird rally short-handed Storm past Liberty

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NEW YORK (AP)—Even without Lauren Jackson, the Seattle Storm aren’t settling for just making the postseason. They have their eyes on first-place Phoenix.

Camille Little had 17 points and 13 rebounds, Sue Bird scored 12 points, and the short-handed Storm rallied to win their sixth straight, 65-58 over the New York Liberty on Tuesday night.

“We aren’t satisfied with making the playoffs, we want to continue to get wins,” said Little, who had three key baskets in the final 6 1/2 minutes.

Seattle, headed for its sixth straight postseason appearance, moved one game behind the Mercury in the Western Conference and stretched its lead on third-place Los Angeles to 3 1/2 games.

“Our goal is still to win the conference,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “Even though we’re in (the playoffs), we’re still trying to fight for position out in the West. We still feel like we have a chance to get first place.”

Tanisha Wright scored 11 points and Swin Cash had nine of her 10 points in the second half for Seattle (19-11), which played its second straight without Jackson while the star forward is sidelined indefinitely due to a stress fracture in her back.

“We’ve been there before,” Agler said. “We played a lot without her last year, and this is our fourth game without her this year. … We’ve got a group of competitors … and they find a way to raise their games together, sort of a collective effort. They just think they can win games. That’s the bottom line.”

Cathrine Kraayeveld had 14 points and eight rebounds, and rookie center Kia Vaughn scored 11 points for the Liberty (12-18). New York dropped 2 1/2 games behind Detroit and Washington for the last two playoff spots in the East with four games remaining.

The Storm finished 24 for 29 (83 percent) on free throws, hitting their last 17 in the second half.

“We put them on the free-throw line and down the stretch we gave up some key offensive rebounds, which can’t happen,” said New York’s Shameka Christon, who finished with a season-low seven points on 2-for-15 shooting. “It was a combination of the two. It was (frustrating) especially because of what’s at stake and … what we wanted to do was to keep our playoff hopes alive.”

Seattle scored seven consecutive points bridging the third and fourth quarters, started and ended by jumpers from Bird, to take a 45-43 lead with 8:14 left. It was the Storm’s first lead since midway through the second quarter.

The teams stayed close, exchanging leads several times, until Cash and Bird hit jumpers 33 seconds apart to give Seattle a 59-55 lead with 1:16 to go.

Little’s layup with about 34 seconds left stretched the Storm’s advantage to six, and Wright made two free throws 10 seconds later to seal the win.

“We stopped them from scoring and we got rebounds,” Little said. “That gave us more opportunities to score. Early in the first half, we were turning the ball over. … We all made some great plays, we got to the free-throw line and that really helped us seal the deal at the end.”

The Liberty shot 7 for 27 (26 percent) on 3s, including a season high-tying four from Kraayeveld. However, the rest of the team was just 3 for 20, with Christon at 1 for 9 and Loree Moore at 1 for 6. Essence Carson was 1 for 3 and Ashley Battle missed both her attempts.

“That’s Shameka’s game,” Liberty interim coach Anne Donovan said. “We are confident that she is going to knock the next one down, so that’s not an issue for me. With regards to other people, we need to be a little more patient.”

Kraayeveld hit two 3-pointers in a 1:20 span to break a 27-all tie and give the Liberty a six-point lead with 5:50 left in the third quarter.

The Liberty led 25-24 at halftime as neither team shot particularly well in the first 20 minutes. New York was 10 for 31 (32 percent) from the field, while Seattle made 7 of 23 (30 percent). The Storm, who tied a season low for first-half scoring, had just eight points on 2-for-9 shooting in the second quarter.

Updated Tuesday, Sep 1, 2009

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