NEW YORK, N.Y. – SEPTEMBER 23, 2015 – The New York Liberty turned in one of its most dominant performances of the season to beat the Indiana Fever 84-67 in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
In a span of just over 24 hours, the Liberty went from facing elimination in a winner-take-all game three with the Mystics, to being one win away from a chance to return to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002.
However, that opportunity will have to wait until Sunday, when New York heads to Indianapolis, Ind., for game two of the best-of-three series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where the Fever has posted a 3-0 mark against the Liberty in 2015.
Wednesday night’s victory was all about balance for New York. Tina Charles proved why she can play with the ability to be considered “the best player in the world,” to quote Bill Laimbeer, as she flirted with a triple-double of 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Her nine assists are a career-high for a playoff game or otherwise, and she also blocked two shots.
While Charles was showing off her versatility, rookie Kiah Stokes was dominant in the low post, shooting 9-of-11 to finish with 21 points, by far her most as a pro; her previous season high was 13.
It may have been enough for a win with the Liberty’s bigs playing so well, but in addition to that, Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers were deadly from beyond the arc, leaving Indiana with no answer defensively. Both sharp-shooting guards were 4-of-6 from 3-point range as the Liberty continued to efficiently work inside and out.
Prince scored 17 points and Rodgers added 14. Rodgers and Stokes combined to lead a Liberty reserve unit that accounted for 41 points.
The Liberty was red hot to start the game, scoring on its first five possessions and hitting all four 3-point attempts in the first quarter to grab a 26-18 lead after 10 minutes of action.
Prince set the tone early, knocking down a pair of treys to help New York open an 11-6 advantage. Once Rodgers checked in, fresh off a 20-point performance in the closeout game against the Mystics, the three point barrage continued.
Rodgers hit her first two tries long distance, powering a 10-2 Liberty run to close out the opening period.
Neither team cooled off in the second quarter, but Indiana continued to be hindered by an inability to protect the basketball. The Fever shot an impressive 63 percent (17-of-27) from the field through 20 minutes of play, but turned it over eight times, which led to 10 Liberty points.
New York was not exactly struggling from the field, shooting 60 percent and nailing 6-of-9 from 3-point range. The inside game was also working, with Stokes getting a lot of good looks, leading to 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
The Fever managed to stay within arm’s length early in third, but after Rodgers connected from three for a fourth time, the lead reached double digits as the Liberty started to pull away, 58-46.
New York really ramped up the defensive pressure as well. Indiana scored just seven points in the third quarter and shot 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) from the field.
Heading into the fourth, New York led by 15 and stretched the lead to as many as 22 down the stretch.
New York Liberty Notes
- New York never trailed, making it two of its last three games without ever facing a deficit.
- The Liberty gave up more than seven 3-pointers per game against Indiana during the regular season but limited the Fever to 3-of-10 shooting from long distance on Wednesday night.
- New York saw its bench contribute more than 40 points for a second-straight game.
- The Liberty is one win away from the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2008, although New York ultimately lost the series to higher-seeded Detroit, 2-1.
- Shenise Johnson scored 12 points to finish as the only player in double figures for Indiana.
- Tina Charles scored 18 points with a career-best nine assists in a playoff or regular season game, and had seven assists.