MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. – SEPTEMBER 6, 2015 – The New York Liberty has clinched home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs for the first time since 2002 thanks to a 75-71 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday night at the Target Center.
After the Liberty’s 82-60 loss to the Chicago Sky on Thursday, head coach Bill Laimbeer and the players stated the team didn’t match the intensity needed to win a game with a playoff atmosphere. But against the Lynx on Sunday, it was evident from the tip that with two days to prepare, New York had transitioned into playoff mode.
That intensity was never more present than over the final few minutes of the game when New York forced Minnesota into committing turnovers on four of its final five possessions. The Lynx failed to hit a field goal over the final 4:35, and twice the Liberty stuffed Maya Moore field goal attempts that could have tied the game.
First it was WNBA Rookie of the Year candidate Kiah Stokes with 58.9 to play, and on the very next possession Tina Charles came up with a blocked shot with 16.9 on the clock, leading to a pair of free throws for Sugar Rodgers where she iced the gamed.
New York improved to 22-9 overall, matching the franchise record for wins set back in 2010. The Liberty’s magic number to clinch the top overall seed in the WNBA Playoffs is down to one, something the franchise has never accomplished.
The Liberty swept the season series with the Lynx for the first time since 2007, and won at Minnesota for the first time since 2011.
The first half featured 13 lead changes and six ties, while neither team ever led by more than five points. It was a Rebekkah Brunson put back less than a second before the buzzer that provided Minnesota with a 43-39 lead at the intermission.
Despite seeing the Lynx come out to shoot 50.0 percent from the field in the first quarter, New York trailed just 21-19 through 10 minutes of action. The Liberty had six more field goal attempts thanks to seven offensive rebounds, leading to five second-chance points because of a spirited effort on the glass.
Moore had 10 points five minutes into the game after she hit a three to give the Lynx an early 16-13 lead. Another Moore bucket, this time a tough turnaround jumper late in the shot clock made it 21-16, before Essence Carson answered with a trey.
New York opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run. Tanisha Wright got things going with a short jumper, then Rodgers made a pair of strong plays, dishing it off to Stokes in traffic for an open layup then completed a 3-point play on the next possession to put the Liberty in front 26-21.
Minnesota scored the next six points, as Brunson capped the run with a jumper at 7:09 to make it 27-26. The teams traded jabs for the next six minutes until the Lynx opened up a 39-34 lead on an Anna Cruz trey at 1:46.
Back came the Liberty, Epiphanny Prince buried a tough jumper and Candice Wiggins was good for a corner three, making it 41-39 before Brunson’s buzzer beater.
After falling behind 47-41 early in the third, New York rattled off eight unanswered to regain a 49-47 lead. That came as part of a dominant 24-16 performance in the quarter, where the Liberty limited Minnesota to 37.5 percent shooting. New York had an assist on all 10 of its third-quarter field goals, including five from Swin Cash; she finished with a-season-high seven.
On the second possession of the fourth, Rodgers hit a huge 3-pointer, which made it a 66-59 Liberty lead. The Lynx were not going to back down that easily, drawing within 69-68 as Brunson found Sylvia Fowles in the paint.
New York scored on its next two possessions, first a difficult take through traffic from Prince, and then a long jumper from Charles. From there, the defense cracked down and the Liberty held on for its league-leading 11th road win.
Charles posted her 11th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds, which matched a season-high. Prince also scored 18 points, shooting 8-of-14 from the field with six assists.
Wright scored a season-high 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and also dished out seven dimes. Rodgers came off the bench to score 11 points.
A game removed from failing to hit a 3-point field goal for just the second time this season, New York shot 7-of-17 from 3-point range and had six different players hit a triple, including Charles, who made her second-career 3-pointer and the first since 2012.
New York returns to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Sept. 9, when it hosts the Connecticut Sun. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
NEW YORK LIBERTY POSTGAME NOTES
- New York clinches the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2002.
- The magic number for home court advantage throughout the WNBA playoffs is down to 1, something New York has never had.
- New York matched the franchise record for wins, set in 2010 when it went 22-12 and finished second in the East.
- First win at Minnesota for the Liberty since 2011
- First time New York sweeps Minnesota since 2007
- New York has not lost a game all season when leading by at least six points at any point in the game.
- The Liberty is now 18-0 when leading to start the fourth quarter.
- A game after New York failed to hit a three it had seven from six different players in the win.
- Tina Charles had her 11th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds and now has 108 in her career.
- Tanisha Wright scored a season-high 16 points with seven assists.
- Swin Cash dished out a season-best seven assists in 17 minutes.