The Detroit Shock are one win away from their third straight trip to the WNBA finals. The team that stands between them and that goal, however, is the only Eastern Conference club with more finals appearances.
The Shock and New York Liberty begin the battle to represent the East in the league's championship series as they open the best-of-three conference finals at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
Detroit made its first trip to the finals and won its first title in 2003, and after consecutive first-round exits, won the championship again in 2006. The team's bid to repeat fell short as the Shock dropped the deciding Game 5 of the finals to Phoenix last September.
The Shock appear determined to get another shot at the championship this year. They won six of their last seven regular season games to claim the conference's top seed, then defeated Indiana 2-1 in the first round.
Detroit led 41-10 midway through the second quarter of Game 3 and cruised to an 80-61 victory Tuesday night.
"We executed brilliantly and the players deserve all the credit in the world," Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. "The performance we put on is the quality of a championship-caliber team."
New York is just as confident after taking two of three from Connecticut in the first round, its first playoff series win since beating Detroit in the opening round in 2004. The Liberty, who made four finals appearances in the league's first six seasons without winning a title, haven't won the conference crown since 2002.
New York, the youngest team in the league, was on the verge of elimination after falling behind in the fourth quarter Monday. The Liberty, though, bounced back to score eight of the game's last 10 points and advance with a 66-62 victory.
"It was an unbelievable team effort," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "With such a young team, it could have been easy to fold our tents. We played really well for three quarters and then when they came back and got the lead it would have been easy for us to fold but we didn't."
Despite their recent dominance in the East, the Shock aren't taking the Liberty lightly.
"They're a very good team," Shock guard Katie Smith told the team's official Web site. "They play very, very well together, and they get after it defensively and they rebound, so we've got our hands full with them, especially starting out at their place."
The Shock also started a playoff series at MSG last season, when they met the Liberty in the first round. After setting a franchise playoff record for fewest points in a 73-51 loss in the opener, Detroit won the next two games at home, including a one-point overtime win in Game 3.
The Shock took three of four from the Liberty in the regular season, including one of their two trips to MSG.
Detroit will play at least the first game of the series without Plenette Pierson, who dislocated her right shoulder in Game 2 of the first round. The 2007 Sixth Woman of the Year averaged a team-high 16.3 points in three games against New York during the regular season while shooting 52.9 percent from the field.
Pierson told Laimbeer she could play, but the coach isn't going to take any risks in Game 1.
"I still expect to be a man down," he said. "With all due respect to Plenette and her heart and desire, she had a significant, severe injury. Can you play with it? Yes. Is the pain severe? Yes. Can she play with it today? Absolutely not."