Comets 79, Liberty 73
HOUSTON — If Cynthia Cooper's pro basketball career ended Saturday, the only Most Valuable Player the WNBA Finals have ever known heads into retirement on top.
"Right now I'm just savoring the moment," Cooper said after her 3-pointer with time running out in regulation sent the Houston Comets into overtime and then to a 79-73 victory over New York and a fourth consecutive league title.
Cooper, the 4-year-old league's career scoring leader, announced last month she would be quitting after this season.
In a TV interview immediately following Saturday's game, she declared: "You couldn't ask for a better time to go out than on top with the Houston Comets as No. 1. This is it."
But meeting with reporters later, she deflected retirement questions.
"I've had some great years with the Comets, great years with the WNBA," she said. "Right now I want to concentrate on four championships that we've won."
If it's over, the 37-year-old Cooper, who played for years in Europe before the WNBA was formed and after a standout four-year collegiate career at Southern California, leaves as a three-time WNBA scoring champion and holder of the single-game record for points — 44 — along with a number of other league marks.
Saturday, she scored 25 points, including the clutch 3-pointer with 21.5 seconds left to tie the game at 64, then hauled down a rebound off a New York shot with 2.9 seconds to go to ensure overtime.
"I'm going to shoot it and I'm going to hit it," she said of the 22-footer that tied the game. "That's all I was focusing on. I wasn't concentrating on anything else. . . . And I really felt confident that I was going to make it."
"If you look at all the games she's won for them, I'd say they have do to a lot of adjusting and regrouping," Liberty coach Richie Adubato said of the prospects of the Comets without Cooper.
"Nobody has the ability to break down defenses like she does. She creates opportunities when she comes down the lane."
The Liberty's Sue Wicks compared her to Michael Jordan.
"She directs a lot of traffic," Wicks said. "She's so dangerous."
Teammate Tina Thompson credited her for succeeding even though she faces a double- or triple-team from opponents every game.
"She performs every single time," Thompson said. "If I ever had to go to a battle, where I was in a war, I would definitely pick Cynthia to take that walk with me because I know every single night when we come to play, she's going to come to play.
"There's never a doubt in my mind that she's not going to perform."
Houston coach Van Chancellor said he tried to ignore all the talk about Cooper's departure from the game. But he knows that time may be coming.
"I don't believe in setting around and dwelling," he said. "I'm going to think about it in the next month, but I haven't thought about this lately because I didn't want to fill my head with all these negative thoughts.
"I'm just glad I got to ride her coattails for four years. I've been the luckiest coach in America."