This Time It's Different

Oct 1 2012 11:40AM

Tina Charles (right) powered the Sun past the Liberty into the Conference Finals.
NBAE/Getty Images

NEWARK, NJ -- As the Connecticut Sun stared down an early 12-0 deficit to open Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with the New York Liberty on Saturday night, 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles wasn't happy, but she wasn't worried either.

"Over the years, since I've been here, we've always had teams who went down, came back, but then couldn't finish it and hold on for the win," said the soft-spoken Charles after making a loud 25-point, 14-rebound playoff statement in the Sun's 75-62 win over the Liberty, which pushed Connecticut into the Conference Finals, against the winner of Atlanta-Indiana. "But this time it's different. We didn't panic. We knew we could come back. That's our mentality this year. We fight."

Fight they did as the Sun clawed their way back from the 12-0 hole and finished with a 14-0 fourth quarter flourish to sweep the Liberty, recording Connecticut's first playoff series victory since 2006. Riding high off an Olympic gold medal, the MVP award and now her first professional playoff series victory, Charles was quick to point out the contributions of her teammates, particularly the ailing but game Asjha Jones and veteran guard Kara Lawson.

"Asjha has such a high basketball I.Q. that to get her back on the court and have her making contributions like she did tonight, it's just a pleasure to play with her," said Charles. "I can just play off her and things start clicking and we get on a roll." Jones has returned from injury to provide a big spark for the Sun, scoring 20 points tonight, which had Connecticut Head Coach Mike Thibault in an expressive mood.

"She's just an unbelievable warrior," said Thibault. "She has the utmost confidence in her shooting ability, despite the problems with her leg, that it gives the whole team a lift."

Kara Lawson, no stranger to postseason excellence as she was a key contributor to the 2005 WNBA championship winning Sacramento Monarchs, was huge for the Sun on Saturday night scoring seven points in the decisive 14-0 run to end the game, including a clutch four-point play at the 3:58 mark which gave the Sun a 65-62 lead and devastated the Liberty.

"Oh, that four-point play broke our back, broke our spirit," said New York's Cappie Pondexter, who scored a team-high 20 points for the Liberty. "Lawson got it going there late and that's the depth the Sun have. Full credit to them, they were the better team."

According to Thibault, it as Jones' shooting range which opened up the offense for Connecticut.

"With Asjah playing like that, we tried to get Kara and Tina on the same side of the floor, with Asjah providing that balance," said Thibault. "And it clicked in the fourth quarter and you saw it with that play (Lawson's four-point play). That's the kind of play she's been making all year."

Thibault's counterpart with New York, John Whisenhunt, was encouraged by New York's fast start, but acknowledged the superior firepower of Charles, Jones and Lawson.

"We ride Cappie to death offensively, but you look at that team, they have the starting center on the gold-medal winning team and league MVP in Charles and with Jones you've got the MVP of the Euroleague," said Whisenhunt. "Add in Lawson, who I coached for three years so I know her very well, and she is just one of the toughest competitors out there. They beat us, you got to tip your hat to them."

Charles concurred with Whisenhunt's assessment of Lawson.

"She has this confidence and she demands the ball and makes plays," said Charles. "She is a force to be reckoned with. I'm just glad she's on our side." Whisenhunt had similar sentiments about Charles.

"Make no mistake, she is the real deal," said New York's coach. "She's 6-4 but with tremendous quickness, great arm-span and she has terrific hands, she just grabs that ball with such authority."

And for the first time in her career, Charles and the Sun have reached the Eastern Conference Finals where that authority will be tested in a bid to compete in the WNBA Finals.