Lauren Jackson returns to help Storm rally past Liberty

SEATTLE -- Lauren Jackson showed in her return from a hip injury what a difference she makes as the Seattle Storm aim for a second consecutive WNBA title.

Jackson scored 20 points in 21 minutes to help the Storm rally for a 63-62 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night.

"She got a lot out of her minutes, didn't she?" Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "She played well. We're a different team, obviously. You've got to give everybody credit for keeping us competitive without her. But we can be much better with her."

Katie Smith hit a 3-pointer with 1:13 left to put Seattle (14-12) ahead after New York led 62-57. The victory moved the Storm into third place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of San Antonio.

Sue Bird added 14 points and Camille Little 11 for Seattle.

Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP, returned after missing 20 games. She played the first five games of the season before tearing a labrum in her left hip.

"I don't think I looked forward to playing basketball as much as I did before this game for probably 10 years," Jackson said. "It just felt awesome to be back out there. I'm just happy my hip held up and we won."

Jackson shot 6 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers. She had seven rebounds.

Plenette Pierson had 15 points for New York (15-12), which remained in third place in the Eastern Conference. Essence Carson and Cappie Pondexter each added 12. Pondexter averaged 27.6 points in her previous three games.

Kia Vaughn missed a 13-footer with 6.9 seconds left that would have given the Liberty a one-point lead. Carson then stole an inbound pass with 3 seconds left but had the ball stripped by Bird as she drove toward the basket and time expired.

New York players and coaches wanted a foul called against Bird.

"The official choked the last play," New York coach John Whisenant said. "They were trying to foul and he choked. There is not a whole lot you can do about that."

Bird said she stripped the ball cleanly.

"I personally don't feel like I fouled," Bird said. "I was going for the ball. In my mind, I was going to get the ball clean or I was going to foul her. There was no way I was going to let her shoot a layup to win the game."

Jackson scored the Storm's first 10 points of the fourth quarter to keep the game close. She fouled out with 4 minutes left and New York up 57-55.

"Super, amazing," Whisenant said about Jackson. "No one but a great athlete can do that. I was afraid she wouldn't show the rust because she and Sue and Swin (Cash) and the core group have played several years together and last year winning the championship. But it's still tough to come back and not lose rhythm."

Jackson said after the injury and surgery she was unsure if she could return this season.

"When they did the surgery and told me it was worse than they thought, it was scary for a moment," Jackson said. "I've been through a roller coaster but I think that's what made me more determined to get back to make sure it was right and that I was shooting better than I was before I left. I worked on things I could control and hopefully that pays off heading into the playoffs and the next few games."

Pierson and Vaughn had six points apiece in the third quarter to give New York a 49-45 lead. The Liberty outscored Seattle 22-13 in the period.

Leilani Mitchell hit a 3-pointer to give the Liberty their first lead at 39-36 midway through the third quarter. Little responded with five straight points for Seattle before the Liberty scored the final seven points of the period.

Seattle led 17-3 as New York missed nine of its first 10 shots from the field. Jackson scored eight to help the Storm to a 24-13 first-quarter lead. She made two free throws and a 3-pointer on the Storm's first two possessions and later added another 3-pointer.

The Storm led 32-27 at halftime.

The Liberty has lost seven straight at Seattle since a win in 2004.