The path to the Eastern Conference Finals has been vastly different for the two teams involved. The New York Liberty were the best team in the WNBA during the regular season, while the Indiana Fever waded through a tough Eastern Conference on their way to securing the No. 3 seed. Now, they face each other in a best-of-three series with a trip to the WNBA Finals on the line.
Let’s take a quick look at what to expect in this series.
How Did They Get Here?
Both Indiana and New York needed three games to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals, but each series was had its own tone. Indiana earned its spot in the Eastern Conference Finals with a win over WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky. New York knocked off a feisty Washington Mystics squad that took New York down to the wire in two games at Madison Square Garden.
If there’s one similarity between the two teams, it’s that they’re battle tested. Each has been pitted with tough scenarios and emerged victorious. Indiana had to win a series-clinching game on the road in a hostile environment. New York was involved in a defensive chess match with Washington and endured a key injury to starting center Carolyn Swords (who remains day-to-day).
But now the slate is clean and the Fever and Liberty are set to clash for a spot in the WNBA Finals.
Players to Watch
New York: Tina Charles. Charles is playing some of the best basketball of her career, and head coach Bill Laimbeer says she’s playing the best defense of her career. That’s of utmost importance to a New York team that prides itself on its defense. She’s a part of a frontcourt that uses its length to its advantage, no matter who is on the floor, whether it be rookie Kiah Stokes, Swords, Charles or Avery Warley-Talbert.
On the flip side, Charles is the focal point of New York’s attack on offense, and her play against the Indiana frontcourt will be crucial. If the Liberty continue to play without Swords, look for Charles to do a lot more dirty work down low on the offensive and defensive glass.
Indiana: Tamika Catchings. She willed the Fever to a Conference Semifinals win over the Chicago Sky, and her experience and “warrior mentality” will play a major part in determining how far the Fever go this postseason. Catchings is a seasoned veteran, and no matter what situation Indiana finds itself in against New York, there’s a good chance she’s been there before. Her experience and ability to impact the game in a variety of ways will be extremely beneficial to a Fever team that’s trying to get back to the WNBA Finals for the first time since they won it all in 2012.
Keys To The Series
For New York, the keys to advancing to the next round can be simplified. As Laimbeer has told his squad, if they win all of their home games they will win a championship. So, in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Liberty must defend their home court. Madison Square Garden has given its full support to the Liberty thus far, and New York must continue to use that to its advantage if it wants to earn a chance to play for the WNBA Championship. But they’ll also need continued production from its bench. Laimbeer has repeatedly told his players to “stay ready” to step up, and Sugar Rodgers and Candice Wiggins answered the call in Game 3 of the semis. They’ll need those types of contributions if they’re going to claw their way into the Finals.
For Indiana, they need to continue doing what has gotten them to this point. Head coach Stephanie White’s squad is the best three-point shooting team in the league and boasted the third-best Offensive Rating (102.4) during the regular season. And as has been the theme with Indiana for years, they weren’t too shabby defensively, either. Indiana finished with the fifth-best Defensive Rating (99.9) in the league. They’ve stayed true to themselves so far this postseason, but they’re now pitted against a team that prides itself on defense. Now they’ve got to follow the lead of Catchings, endure the sure-to-be buzzing Madison Square Garden crowd and take care of the little things in order to move past the No. 1 seed.