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Liberty Goes Deep To Pull Out Game 3, Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

Liberty move on to Conference Finals

New York Liberty (Photo by Marlene Amaya-VAzquez / Double G Media)

New York Liberty (Photo by Marlene Amaya-VAzquez / Double G Media)


This is why home court advantage is so precious to attain. Madison Square Garden, when it gets like this, is one of the best places to perform. It’s why Tina Charles came here. It’s why Epiphanny Prince was happy to be traded here. It’s the kind of place that makes role players into legends on any given night.

The New York Liberty had to depend on its bedrock, its defense, and the return of Candice Wiggins and Sugar Rodgers to perform on stage center in a supporting role that became the defining moments of this team’s heart in a 79-74 victory over the young and rapidly improving Washington Mystics, coached by Mike Thibault.

Of course, there is Tina Charles, who scored 22 points in all three games of this series. The All-Star forward also grabbed 12 rebounds to go with four assists to lead a tired team, into its next playoff series, against Indiana tomorrow night here at Madison Square Garden. The Liberty had to do this down a starter as Carolyn Swords, their solid center and one of their better players this series was held out by Head Coach Bill Laimbeer due to a right foot injury.

“Tonight’s win means everything for us,” Charles explained. “I’m happy we got the win because we learned from Game 1. It’s all about responding.”

Avery Warley-Talbert got the nod in place of Swords, but was not effective enough. In fact, the starting five were not going to win this one collectively. It was going to take some extras to get it done. The Mystics repeated the script from Game One, hitting from the outside as their ball movement befuddled the New York defenders and Ivory Latta continued to be a thorn in their side.

But Laimbeer showed his Coach of the Year class by inserting Kiah Stokes and Sugar Rodgers. Rodgers, a gym rat in the most literal sense, would have one of those nights not only hitting from long range but driving hard and drawing fouls, which worked out well as she hit ten of ten, the team 18 of 19 overall from the free throw line. Tina Charles spoke out personally about this.

“Sugar’s in the gym 24/7. We have practice and she’s there that night,” Charles shared. “She gets Teresa Weatherspoon to help out, and never lets up. She just wants to keep getting better. I’m really proud of her.”

Sugar also provided the offensive spark needed from the bench with 20 points, showing the arsenal of moves that made her a star at Georgetown University.

“I’m just enjoying the ride,” Sugar confirmed. “I expect to shoot great every night. I don’t think any less of myself.”

Stokes scored eight points but it was in the rebounding area, especially defensively, that the Liberty once again proved efficient in. Stokes would snatch 13 of them. The Mystics went one and done time and time again.

The Liberty started to right the ship and went on a run ignited by Candice Wiggins, whose relentless defense and three point shooting opened the game up, hitting four for four from beyond the three point arc on the night.

The Liberty rallied from a 12 point deficit to take a 45-37 halftime lead. But the sluggishness was seen again from the returning starters. A 14-2 run by Washington made it 51-47 in their favor and again it looked like the tank was empty. But, Wiggins hit two threes late in the third to tie matters at 57 going into a classic fourth quarter finish with a wild enthusiasm that brought the Garden back to life.

The Liberty and Mystics went toe-to-toe as each side took turns in the driver’s seat. One minute to decide the team that would move on saw New York down by one with under a minute left. Rodgers once again penetrated the lane but at the last minute found Kiah Stokes who laid it in to recapture the lead. She then knocked the ball away from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and extending the lead to three.

Then, with the Liberty leading by one, in came Epiphanny Prince, 1-for-11 on the evening. However, as the best perimeter shooter on the team in Laimbeer’s estimation, she was made for these moments. Prince saved an errant pass, she took the ball, probed the defense and bounced back and swished a 14-foot semi-throw up fadeaway to make it 77-74 and everyone knew that was the backbreaker. But there was still that pesky guard.

Enter Ivory Latta, who already has 18 points and seven assists to that point including a desperation three heaved over a fully extended Stokes earlier in the contest. The last play was going to her and everyone knew it. She had hit the three that forced overtime in Game One. But this time, Latta received the ball at the three arc at the top of the key but who came out all the way to contest it but Kiah Stokes. Stokes got a piece of it, as it died suddenly into the hands of the Liberty.

The New York bench outscored the Mystic bench to the tune of 40-19 and even its own starters 40-39.

“Not too much to say right now. Everyone is heartbroken about the loss,” Washington’s Ivory Latta said. “We had a good season, just have to give it time, but there are a lot of things we can look back on and say we did great.”

The game is often won in the trenches and rebounding often is the winning factor because it measures the desire of the teams involved. New York won it overall at 34-29. That was the difference according to the Mystics.

“Other than rebounding, I think everything else was good,” Tierra Ruffn-Pratt responded.

Mystic head coach Mike Thibault added, “We warned our team all year one of the reasons that will hold us back and be will on our tombstone, you don’t rebound you don’t win.”

New York has now advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. They will once again face an opponent who had the better of them all year, the Indiana Fever. No rest for the weary as New York will have to be ready to start another series that is expected to be another grind.

“It’s never easy. I tell our players that no matter what your record is, and no matter what your seed is, it’s never easy.” Laimbeer reminded.

The Fever upset the second seeded Chicago Sky, losing a close first contest but rebounding to kick Chicago in game two and followed it up with a surprise in Chicago as the WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne and Cappie Pondexter will be sitting down for the rest of the playoffs.

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