The WNBA Eastern Conference Finals matchup is set as the New York Liberty will face off against the upset-minded Indiana Fever.
The Liberty will face a very rare playoff back-to-back as Game 1 of the conference finals is set for Wednesday at Madison Square Garden due to a scheduling conflict involving the Pope’s trip to the United States. New York faced a stiff challenge from the Washington Mystics in the first round, dropping Game 1 at home before rallying to win the final two games to advance.
Tina Charles logged a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds while Sugar Rodgers scored 20 off the bench as New York held on for a 79-74 win in Game 3.
The Fever pulled off a big upset over the second-seeded Chicago Sky. Indiana dropped Game 1 but came back to win the next two, including the decisive Game 3 in Chicago. They fended off a splendid performance from regular-season MVP Elena Delle Donne, who scored 40 points, thanks to an MVP-type effort from their own Tamika Catchings.
Catchings turned back the clock against the Sky, scoring 27 points in Game 3 while averaging 23 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 steals in the series. Indiana will need her to continue that torrid stretch if they’re going to get through the Liberty to once again reach the Finals.
Even with the short turnaround, the Liberty will enter the conference finals as the favorite. They captured the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs after going a league-best 23-11 during the regular season. Don’t expect them to overlook Indiana, however, given that the Fever won four of the five meetings against the Liberty during the regular season.
On paper, this series is an intriguing matchup pitting one of the league’s better offensive teams against the best overall defensive team. New York led the league allowing opponents just 71.1 points per game during the regular season. Their defensive rating of 94.2 was by far the league’s best. Indiana was third-best in the league with 77.7 points per game and was also third in offensive rating at 102.4.
Slowing down Charles will be priority No. 1 for Indiana, but it won’t be that easy. Charles averaged 22 points and 8.3 rebounds during the three-game series against Washington, and she was an MVP candidate this season. The Fever will likely throw a lot of bodies at her, including Erlana Larkins. New York was the top rebounding team in the league this season (thanks to Charles and Kiah Stokes), and Indiana will have to combat that with a team approach and simply can’t afford lopsided rebounding totals.
One thing that’s clearly in Indiana’s favor is their proficiency from beyond the arc. The Fever were the top three-point shooting team in the league by a wide margin, knocking down 36 percent of their attempts on the year. Indiana went 10-for-20 from deep in their Game 3 win over the Sky, with forward Marissa Coleman going 5-for-7.
As good as New York is defensively, they were second-worst in opponent three-point percentage, allowing teams to convert 35 percent of their attempts. If Indiana’s three-point shooting can spread New York’s defense out, then they may have an even better chance to pull the upset.