The Liberty are one win away from the WNBA Finals after an 84-67 drubbing of the Indiana Fever in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.
New York was forced to play on the night after eliminating the Mystics due to a Big Apple visit from the Pope, who will be at MSG on Thursday. Indiana played like the team with little rest as the Liberty never trailed and led by as many as 22. “I was in shock of the effort, the intensity, focus that we exhibited on a back-to-back game like this,” said coach Bill Laimbeer.
Tina Charles set the tone with two early baskets on her way to 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. “I thought you saw, for tonight at least, the best player in the world out there put on a show,” Laimbeer said.
“New York came out with great energy,” said Indiana coach Stephanie White, whose squad took four of five from the Liberty in the regular season but now face elimination on Sunday. “They were very efficient on the offensive end. You certainly know that they bring it on the defensive end every single day.”
After playing all but four seconds of Tuesday night’s win over Washington, Charles logged over 36 minutes on Wednesday. Stephanie White thinks highly of the Liberty forward. “If I’m coach Laimbeer, I’m telling Tina Charles ‘this is how you should be playing every day.’ She can dominate. The only person that holds Tina Charles back is Tina Charles. Sometimes that’s a mentality, sometimes it’s personality, and sometimes it’s just these guys play for 12 months out of the year, sometimes it’s fatigue. I think she has the potential to be one of the greatest players that’s ever played this game.”
Believe it or not, it wasn’t totally the Tina Charles show. Kiah Stokes led New York with 21 points off the bench, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots. “Tina and the other players just did a great job of finding me under the basket,” said Stokes, who made several lay-ups. “I don’t think I did anything special.” Alright, maybe it was totally the Tina Charles show.
Charles named several of her inspirations, including one who called New York home for a decade and a half. “Growing up, funny enough, I loved Patrick Ewing. I came to all the games, he’s the reason I back down and I do little things like that. Fundamental wise, Tim Duncan, the way he plays, Kevin Garnett fadeaway, how he’s versatile, so all that mixed up in one.”
Supporting players Epiphanny Prince scored 17 points and Sugar Rodgers added 14, with each player shooting four-for-six from downtown. Rodgers also dished out five assists. The tough defense held the Fever to seven third quarter points.
The Liberty can clinch the fourth conference title in team history with a win in Indiana on Sunday.