WNBA: Washington Looks to Spoil New York's 'Garden' Party and Move to East Finals
WASHINGTON – This is it.
The Washington Mystics and New York Liberty meet in the decisive third game of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden beginning at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Mystics have won all three games at MSG this season, including last Friday’s pulsating, 86-83 double overtime triumph in the series opener.
They have also captured four of the six matchups between the two teams this season. The winner of the series will meet the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If New York wins it will host game one on Wednesday.
If the Mystics win they will travel to face Indiana in the opening game on Thursday night.
Washington won the season series with Indiana, which won its season series with New York, which does not have the luxury of looking ahead.
“We know this is going to be the hardest game that we played all year long,” New York head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We are going to play in the Garden.
Last time in the Garden, the fans were unbelievable. It was a lot of fun to be there. The players enjoyed it.
"They really felt bad they missed an opportunity to connect with the fans in a wining environment so we had to come today, get this win, and go back there.” he said here on Sunday after the Liberty extended the series.
New York’s Tina Charles was personally responsible for bringing the Mystics and the series back to the Big Apple.
Her electric 22-point performance in Sunday’s 86-68 victory was special.
She scored 17 points in the third quarter to help the Liberty gain the separation needed to extend its season.
The 18-point win was New York’s largest margin of victory on the road in a playoff game in franchise history. The Liberty outscored the Mystics, 36-10, in the paint.
Charles has been a thorn in the Mystics' side during this series.
She scored 22 points in each game and is shooting 41.7 percent from the field.
While this is her first playoff series as a member of the Liberty, performing well under the bright lights is normal for Charles, who in nine-career playoff games is averaging 18.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Ironically, in the other games she was playing for then-Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, who has been in charge of the Mystics the past three seasons, including this one.
While Charles' playoff stats to date are nice, she is only looking forward.
“We just need to stay consistent with communication, defensive rotations, executing on offense, not settling for a shot, and defending the three better,” Charles said on the key to winning the third game.
Epiphany Prince is averaging 18.5 points per game in this series.
She set a new Liberty playoff single-game scoring record with 26 points in Game One against Washington.
She surpassed the previous New York record of 24 points, from Tari Phillips against Houston in game one of the WNBA Finals in 2000.
Prince shot 11-of-16 from the field and also had five rebounds and four assists.
Her previous personal best for a playoff game was 19 points against Atlanta last season when she was a member of the Chicago Sky.
Once Ivory Latta and Tayler Hill departed Sunday’s post-game press conference, the Game Two setback was a distant memory.
They were both around two years ago when the Mystics opened the playoffs with a win in Atlanta and then dropped the final two games, which included a loss at home in the second game.
The pair, who combined for 34 points Sunday, are looking to write a different ending.
Hill has been strong in the first two games. She scored 13 points in the opening game victory and delivered a playoff career best 19 points Sunday.
She also tied Latta’s franchise postseason record with six three-pointers made. She is averaging 16 points in this series while Latta is averaging 15 points.
The Mystics understand where they must thrive in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.
“Defense for sure.” Hill said. “That is most important for us.
"If we don’t play defense first we cannot generate our offense. Defense and rebounding is number one. Our offense will come.
"We can execute on offense if we can get stops and we are able to run. We are a deep team and we can run all 12 but it is hard when you are not getting any stops.”
In both games, the Liberty have shot over 40 percent while the Mystics have failed to crack that sacred shooting standard.
Washington could also use a better start offensively Tuesday other than the one where it started 4-for-22.
Another key for Washington is getting a better combined performance from All-Stars Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson. They combined for 26 points and 19 rebounds in the game one victory.
In game two, the same pair combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“We beat them on their court,” Thibault said. “They beat us on our court. It is 1-1. It is a one game series to advance.
"We have to let it all out there and not hold anything back. I thought we hesitated on shots and struggled with passing decisions.
"The biggest thing is to be positive about it. The series did not end today. It is 1-1.
"In tennis they say they held serve…but we broke serve. It is a one game series.”
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