Anyone for a Rematch?
Who doesn't love a good rematch? Well, we got one.
For the second time in as many years the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever will face off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And who can forget that show-stopping series back in 2010? It came down to a huge Essence Carson block on Tamika Catchings in Game 3 to send New York to the EC Finals.
Indiana and New York come into these 2011 playoffs as the #1 and #4 seeds in the East, respectively. But despite clinching the top seed in the EC, the Fever have faltered of late, losing six of their last nine games. Tamika Catchings sat out in Indiana's last game against Atlanta this past Sunday with a hankering knee injury. Head Coach Lin Dunn has been extra cautious with Catchings, knowing she needs the All-Star in order to make a run.
The Liberty have won six of their last ten games, including their last bout with the Fever on September 9 with the season series finishing at 2-2. Two of the Liberty's three losses over the last 10 games were by a single point.
Catchings and Pondexter, both MVP candidates, are no doubt the headliners of this match-up, but the supporting casts are equally impressive.
For New York, four players are averaging double-digits, including Cappie Pondexter (17.3ppg), Plenette Pierson (12.9), Essence Carson (11.3), and Kia Vaughn (10.1), while veteran Nicole Powell continues to contribute in all columns of the box score.
Indiana is also led by WNBA veteran and Hoosier native, Katie Douglas (13.9ppg, 44% 3p FG) who has been to three WNBA finals, but has yet to win a ring. Veteran Tangela Smith (7.2ppg), who just this Sunday scored her 5,000th point, solidifying her 8th all-time scoring spot in the League, and Jessica Davenport (10.7ppg), could both be X-factors in this series.
At practice this week, the Liberty players were focused, hungry, and still trying to get better - even those that have been here before.
Pondexter, who won two Championships while playing in Phoenix, said that she is excited and anxious for the upcoming playoffs, and that she is grateful to still have those feelings after six seasons in the WNBA. She said she came to New York to bring the city a championship, and remains steadfast in that commitment.
But Pondexter isn't the only member of New York's squad to have won a WNBA championship.
Powell won one in Sacramento along with current head coach, John Whisenant. Pierson and Kara Braxton, former Bad Girls, won two rings under Bill Lambeer in Detroit.
Powell agrees with Pondexter's sentiment that it is a good feeling to still be excited for this time of year, even after seven seasons in the pros. She also expressed how proud she is of her teammates, including the rookies, for their dedication and commitment through the course of the season. Powell acknowledges that this team is battle tested, and she feels the many close games the Liberty have won has no doubt helped prepare them for playoff basketball.
For Pierson, even though she has been here before, every year is different. Even from one week to the next, the 30 year old is still trying to improve her game to be better for her team.
Kia Vaughn has never won a championship - not in high school, college, or the WNBA - but she is ready. The Bronx native says, "I want a ring," flashing up her ringless fingers along with a smile. She is ready for the challenge and excited to get to Indiana.
The Liberty have made three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, most recently losing to Atlanta last year. But if the excitement and butterflies tell you anything about this year's team, it's that they do not take this opportunity for granted. New York has seen Indiana four times already this season and know what a formidable opponent Catchings' team is. But you can throw the seeds out the window. The rematch is on, and the Liberty are ready. If you don't have your tickets to Saturday's game at Prudential Center, click here.