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Second Round Playoff Preview: (3) New York Liberty vs. (6) Washington Mystics

Heading into their game against the Indiana Fever on Aug. 8, the New York Liberty sat in sixth place in the WNBA standings with a record of 12-12. New York was 3.0 games behind Connecticut and 2.5 games behind Washington – the No. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively – with 10 games to play in the season.

Standings entering games on Aug. 8

Team W-L (Aug. 8) Final 10 Games
Minnesota 20-3 6-4
Los Angeles 18-7 8-2
Connecticut 15-9 6-4
Washington 15-10 4-6
Phoenix 13-12 5-5
New York 12-12 10-0

 

While other teams stumbled down the stretch, the Liberty found their stride as they closed the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. In the process they climbed over Phoenix, Washington and Connecticut to earn the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, the first-round bye that came with it and home-court advantage in the second round. That second-round game tips off at Madison Square Garden at 5 PM ET on Sunday and can be seen on ESPN2.

New York was in the same position last year as the No. 3 seed, hosting a singe-elimination second-round game. The Liberty will be looking for a different result this year. In 2016, their season was cut short by a talented Mercury team that entered the season with high expectations but struggled early before hitting their stride at playoff time.

After being ousted by the No. 8 seed in last year’s playoffs, the Liberty came back in 2017 and put together their third straight 20-win season, thanks in large part to that 10-game win streak. There was no team hotter entering the playoffs than the Liberty. Can they carry that momentum on Sunday against Washington?

Similar to Phoenix last year, the Mystics were a popular choice to make a deep playoff run this season after they executed a blockbuster deal to land 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne and acquired veteran point guard Kristi Toliver in the offseason. In the preseason survey of league general managers, the Mystics received two of 12 votes (17%) to win the WNBA title, trailing only last year’s finalists, Minnesota and Los Angeles.

While the Mystics (18-16) did make a five-game improvement over last season, they had an up-and-down year, which led them to the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. The Mystics simply did not have their talented roster on the floor together enough throughout the year. There was the season-ending injury to guard Tayler Hill (16 games missed), national team obligations for forward Emma Meesseman (11 games missed) as well as ankle and thumb injuries for Delle Donne (9 games missed). That’s 36 missed games by their top three scorers this season.

Hill is out until next season, but Delle Donne is back, Meesseman is back and the Mystics are coming off a strong showing in their first-round win over Dallas. Washington got 25 points and 11 boards from Delle Donne, 16 points and 10 rebounds from Meesseman, 16 points from Toliver and 17 rebounds from Krystal Thomas in its 86-76 win over the Wings.

It is the first time Washington has advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2002. That year – in their only trip to the semifinal round – the Mystics met the Liberty in the Eastern Conference Finals and fell 2-1 as New York advanced to its fourth WNBA Finals. New York was swept by Los Angeles in the 2002 Finals and has not been back to the championship series since, as the Liberty continue to chase their first WNBA title.

Playoff History

This is the fourth time these two teams have squared off in the postseason, with New York winning all three previous series. The Liberty hold a 6-2 record against Washington in the postseason. Will they be able to add to that dominance on Sunday or can the Mystics oust the Liberty from the playoffs for the first time in four tries?

Liberty vs. Mystics Playoff Meetings

  • 2000 First Round: New York wins 2-1, beats Cleveland in the Conference Finals 2-1, loses to Houston in the Finals 0-2
  • 2002 Conference Finals: New York wins 2-1, loses to Los Angeles in the Finals 0-2
  • 2015 First Round: New York wins 2-0, loses to Indiana in the Conference Finals 1-2

Regular Season Series

The Liberty won the season series, 2-1, as the home team was victorious in all three meetings. The final matchup of the season on Aug. 25 is the one to pay the most attention to, as it included the players that will be on the court for Sunday’s second-round game. Washington did not have Meesseman, but did have Delle Donne and Hill for the first game. It had Meesseman back, but was without Delle Donne and Hill for the second game. The final game included both Meesseman and Delle Donne, while Hill remained out with the season-ending injury. This is the team they will bring to New York on Sunday. Can they get a different result than their 74-66 loss in New York just two-and-a-half weeks ago?

June 29 at Washington

  • Mystics 67, Liberty 54
  • Mystics: Delle Donne: 15 pts, 9 reb, 4-16 FG, 0-4 3P / Latta: 15 pts, 5-11 FG, 4-6 3P / Hawkins: 13 pts, 4 stl, 5-10 FG
  • Liberty: Zellous: 17 pts, 7 reb, 5-12 FG / Prince: 12 pts, 7 reb, 5-16 FG / Charles: 8 pts, 8 reb, 3-15 FG

July 16 at New York

  • Liberty 85, Mystics 55
  • Mystics: Meesseman: 19 pts, 2 blk, 6-13 FG, Thomas: 7 pts, 10 reb / Delle Donne: DNP (injured)
  • Liberty: Hartley: 15 pts, 4 reb, 6-10 FG, 3-6 3P / Rodgers: 14 pts, 5-11 FG, 3-6 3P / Charles 6 pts, 7 reb, 3-10 FG

August 25 at New York

  • Liberty 74, Mystics 66
  • Mystics: Thomas: 17 pts, 9 reb, 7-9 FG / Delle Donne: 15 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast, 6-11 FG / Meesseman: 12 pts, 8 reb, 6-10 FG
  • Liberty: Charles: 20 pts, 7 reb, 9-19 FG / Prince: 20 pts, 4 reb, 6-11 FG, 2-4 3P / Zellous: 18 pts, 5 reb, 6-14 FG

Stats Spotlight

If their playoff matchup echoes what they did in the regular season, then expect a low-scoring game on Sunday. The average score of these three games was 71.0 to 62.7 in favor of New York. That is 8.7 points fewer than New York averaged on the season and 19.0 points fewer for the Mystics. Washington’s point totals of 67, 55 and 66 against the Liberty are three of their four-lowest outputs of the entire season, with the 55-point game being the low point of the year.

To say the Mystics’ offense struggled against the Liberty would be an understatement. The Liberty defense held Washington to 62.7 points, 11.7 assists, 32.8% shooting from the field and 18.6% from beyond the arc, the lowest marks of any opponent they had all season. Of course, New York’s offense wasn’t exemplary either, as it scored just 71 points per game on 38.2% shooting from the field.

New York Stats – Season vs. Series With Mystics

Stat NYL year (rk) NYL vs WAS Diff
PTS 79.7 (9) 71.0 -8.7
REB 38.7 (1) 44.0 +5.3
AST 16.7 (9) 13.7 -3.0
STL 6.1 (11) 6.0 -0.1
BLK 3.9 (5) 4.7 +0.8
FG% 42.5 (9) 38.2 -4.3
3P% 33.2 (8) 32.7 -0.5
FT% 77.9 (9) 87.2 +9.3
3PM 5.7 (8) 5.7 Even
FTM 15.3 (5) 11.3 -4.0
TOV 13.1 (3) 13.7 +0.6

 

Washington Stats – Season vs. Series With Liberty

Stat WAS year (rk) WAS vs NYL Diff
PTS 81.7 (8) 62.7 -19.0
REB 36.3 (3) 31.7 -4.6
AST 16.4 (10) 11.7 -4.7
STL 6.3 (10) 7.3 +1.0
BLK 4.6 (3) 4.0 -0.6
FG% 41.6 (10) 32.8 -8.8
3P% 31.7 (10) 18.6 -13.1
FT% 84.3 (1) 81.0 -3.3
3PM 6.8 (2) 4.3 -2.5
FTM 18.0 (3) 15.7 -2.3
TOV 12.1 (1) 10.3 -1.8

 

Players To Watch

With each team boasting a WNBA Most Valuable Player winner – Elena Delle Donne in 2015 and Tina Charles in 2012 – we know that their play will go a long way to determining which team wins this matchup.

In six games since returning from her thumb injury, Delle Donne is averaging 23.7 points on 54.1 percent shooting (46-85) from the field, 54.5 percent (12-22) from beyond the arc and 97.4 percent (38-39) from the free throw line. Those marks are all superior to her already great regular-season averages.

Charles put together yet another outstanding year for the Liberty, as she averaged 19.7 points (third in the WNBA) and 9.4 rebounds (fourth) for the season. It’s become nearly routine for Charles to finish among the league leaders in points and rebounds each year as she threatens to average 20-10. The words “routinely dominant” don’t usually go together, but they aptly describe the play of Tina Charles.

When we look beyond the MVPs, there are plenty of candidates for the title of X-factor in this matchup. For the Mystics, look for Meesseman, Thomas and Toliver to step up. All three made big contributions in Washington’s first-round win over Dallas.

For the Liberty, look for guards Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers to complement the inside play of Charles to balance the New York attack. Prince has scored in double figures in each of her last six games, including a 20-point effort in the last meeting between these two teams. Rodgers finished the season with 63 3-pointers made, the sixth-highest total in the WNBA. She struggled from beyond the arc in the closing week of the season, shooting 2-17 (11.8%) in New York’s final four games. But Rodgers has proven that she can explode at any time. And there is no time bigger than Sunday’s second-round matchup at The Garden.