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New York Liberty hoping to extend WNBA Finals as Game 4 looms

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

We're in the midst of the WNBA finals, where things may be looking up for the New York Liberty. The Las Vegas Aces took the first two games in the best-of-five series, but the Liberty got a win on Sunday night in Brooklyn, which prevented them from being eliminated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Here's Jones. Into the corner. Laney. You bet.

PFEIFFER: That was the first finals win for New York since 1999, and the Liberty are the only original WNBA franchise still operating that has yet to win a championship. So we have called basketball legend and ESPN commentator Rebecca Lobo to get her perspective. Hi, Rebecca.

REBECCA LOBO: Hey. How are you?

PFEIFFER: I'm good. You were a member of that original Liberty franchise, and I understand you were in the building for Sunday's win, along with that other record crowd of 17,000 fans. What was it like to watch it?

LOBO: It was incredible. It was just incredible to be in that environment. This is a New York Liberty team that moved to Brooklyn a couple of years ago. The fan base has just continued to grow. And for them now to be back in the finals for the first time since 2002, it's just been really fun to watch. To see all the celebrities that are coming to sit courtside and to see the building completely sold out was incredible. And it's something that started at the beginning of the season once they realized how good this team was going to be this year, and has just continued to grow.

PFEIFFER: Las Vegas is the defending league champion. What do you think makes them so hard to play against?

LOBO: Vegas has a number of No. 1 picks on their roster. They have A'ja Wilson, who was the MVP a season ago - a two-time MVP. They're an incredibly talented team. Their starting five players all started in the finals a year ago. They had the experience of playing with one another. One thing that's really interesting as we look ahead to this Game 4 on Wednesday is that their point guard, Chelsea Gray, who has been vital to their success this season, went down with an injury with about five minutes to go in Game 3. Her status is uncertain. We're kind of all waiting to see whether or not she's going to be able to play.

PFEIFFER: So with that possible wild card of not knowing whether or not that point guard, Chelsea Gray, will be playing, what are you expecting from Wednesday's matchup?

LOBO: Well, it's really interesting because in Games 1 and 2, both played in Vegas, the Aces were dominant. And neither game was close, which is interesting, too, because they played five times in the regular season. New York won three; Vegas one two. None of those games were close either. And then you come to Game 3, and New York was back at home and was able to pull that one out. So I expect another incredibly competitive game. You know, in terms of what's going to happen on the court, a lot will depend on the health of Chelsea Gray. And if she is not able to play, I would not be surprised at all to see this go back to Vegas for a Game 5.

PFEIFFER: We mentioned that you're a commentator for ESPN now. What is it like to watch it - the game as an analyst? Does it change the experience at all?

LOBO: I so love being around basketball, but always kind of knew that coaching wasn't in my future. And so being able to sit courtside and do it as an analyst has been incredible. I've been doing it now for ESPN for 20 years. And when I first started and I was fresh off of my playing career, it was a little more challenging because there are still people out there who were teammates of mine and still, you know, kind of had that teammate bond and relationship. But as the years have gone on, that obviously has changed and the popularity of the game has grown. And I'm the mother of four - three daughters who all play sports, or at least did at some point when they were growing up. And so it's been gratifying for me to see the different climate they've grown up in than the one I did.

PFEIFFER: A more supportive one for women's athletes.

LOBO: Certainly, one that has a lot more opportunity.

PFEIFFER: By the way, as you watch, do you wish you could be back out there?

LOBO: (Laughter) No, which tells you I retired just at the right time, especially with how my body feels just getting out of bed these days. I'm more relieved than anything that I don't have to go and put it through this stuff anymore.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter) That's former WNBA player and ESPN commentator Rebecca Lobo. Thank you.

LOBO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah Handel
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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