NEW YORK, N.Y. – SEPT. 23, 2016 – The wait for the WNBA Playoffs to begin is finally over for the New York Liberty, which will host the Phoenix Mercury in a winner-take-all 2nd Round elimination game on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.
New York finished first in the Eastern Conference with a 21-13 overall record, surpassing 20 wins in consecutive seasons for the 2nd time in franchise history. However, because of the new playoff format which sees a re-seeding based on overall record regardless of conference affiliation, the Liberty are the No. 3 seed and face No. 8 Phoenix, who upset No. 5 Indiana on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It has been a unique end to the season for New York, which secured the No. 3 seed before a majority of teams had locked in playoff berths. Falling in 4-of-5 to end the year, now the Liberty will play the biggest game of the season for the right to advance to the best-of-5 WNBA semifinals.
The Liberty had some success in three meetings against Phoenix this season, and dating back to last year New York is 4-1 in its last five games against the Mercury. The two games at Madison Square Garden were split, although Phoenix’s victory came in overtime after Diana Taurasi sunk three free throws with just seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra period.
New York’s stars Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers have been particularly potent against the Liberty’s playoff foe in the Mercury. Charles has averaged a double-double of 26.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, while Rodgers is averaging 21.3 ppg against Phoenix, shooting 11-of-27 (.407) from 3-point range.
• The New York Liberty is making its 14th postseason appearance and secured the No. 3 seed by finishing 1st in the Eastern Conference with a 21-13 overall record. The Liberty is in the WNBA Playoffs for a 2nd-straight season and reached 20 victories in consecutive seasons for the 2nd time in franchise history and the first since 2000-01.
• Saturday will be just the 2nd ever postseason meeting between New York and Phoenix. The two met in the one-game WNBA Semifinals during the league’s inaugural season in 1997, a game the Liberty won 59-41.
• Tina Charles became just the 3rd player in WNBA history to win the league scoring and rebounding titles in the same season. Charles nearly averaged a double-double with 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. She posted a league-leading 20 double-doubles. It is the 4th time in her career Charles led the league in rebounding and the 1st since 2012. She is the first Liberty player to ever lead the WNBA in scoring or rebounding.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tina Charles has been magnificent all season, and the Liberty will look to her to lead them against Phoenix on Saturday night. In the last game against the Mercury back on Sept. 3, Charles was demonstrative in the paint, forcing the action in the interior on the way to 23 points and 15 rebounds in a 92-70 New York win.
Brittney Griner suffered through some foul trouble in that game, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, but Griner has been consistently excellent for the Mercury down the stretch as it fought for the final WNBA Playoffs berth, so that matchup against Charles will loom large when determining who comes out on top.
The Liberty is known as one of the top defensive teams in the league, and the 2016 season continued that trend as New York once again led the league in defensive field goal percentage (.413) and proved to be the toughest team to score on in the paint in the WNBA. New York saw its opponents shoot just .504 on shots inside of five feet, the next closest team would be Minnesota at .540, and the league average was .571. Controlling the paint proved to be key all season, as the Liberty saw 18 of its 21 wins come when it won points in the paint.
• For the Liberty 10-of-12 players have experienced the WNBA playoffs previous, only Brittany Boyd and Rebecca Allen will be appearing in the postseason for the first time; both were injured during New York’s 2015 playoffs run
• Swin Cash has appeared in 55-career postseason games, the 6th most in WNBA history. She has won three WNBA Championships (2003, 2006, 2010).
• Shavonte Zellous is making her 8th-straight WNBA Playoffs appearance and has participated in the postseason in every one of her professional seasons, making the playoffs as a rookie with Detroit in 2009, and for 7-straight years in Indiana, winning a WNBA title in 2012 and returning to the Finals in 2015
• Tanisha Wright is in the postseason for the 10th time in her career. She has played in 34 WNBA Playoffs games and won a championship with Seattle in 2010.
• Tina Charles is playing in the postseason for the 4th time in her career; she averaged 20.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Liberty in six playoff games in 2015 and boasts career playoff averages of 18.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.