2010 Playoffs: New York Liberty

Sep 7 2010 2:48PM

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Pierson, Liberty Look to Rebound
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

The New York Liberty�s hard-nosed rebounder Plenette Pierson knows a thing or two about battling in the paint. After all, it�s her specialty and one of the reasons Liberty head coach Anne Donovan was so keen on bringing her on board in a mid-season trade with Tulsa. But in Sunday�s Game One Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Dream, Pierson also tested her scoring touch a bit, dropping 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

�That�s a tribute to my teammates,� she said, following the 81-75 New York loss. �They got me great shots in great spots where I could knock them down and [Sunday] was just my night. Unfortunately we didn�t win, so it means nothing to me.�

Out-rebounding Atlanta stood as an obvious concern coming out of Game One, as the Dream�s Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza combined for 24 of the team�s 40 rebounds. Compared to New York�s 28 total rebounds, the rebound differential allowed Atlanta to post 22 second-chance points.

�It�s all about putting the body on somebody. We all have to do it,� Pierson said, looking ahead to Game Two in Atlanta. �They�re a team that all five players crash the boards. We just have to bite down and just do it. It�s something we have to do. Just push back, push them as hard as we can.�

Down 1-0 and facing elimination Tuesday night, New York once again finds itself in a do-or-die scenario, similar to the first round�s Game Three matchup against the Indiana Fever.

�We�ve been a team that�s not going to back down when our back is against the wall,� said Pierson. �We�re going to go in here with the same mindset to correct the things that we did [wrong in Game One] and go at it again in Game Two.�

Even in the face of a loss, Pierson was able to extract the positives that she hopes the Liberty will look to build on when they take to the road for Game Two.

�We came back and we fought,� said Pierson of New York�s ability to adjust in the second half. �We could�ve folded and just let it go and keep moving, but we fought. And that�s what it�s all about. We�re going to go and use this momentum right now, how we played in the second half, and take it into the first half and the whole game in Game Two and hopefully come out with a �W.��

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Vaughn: New York's Spark
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

When Janel McCarville was forced to sit out Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Wednesday night against the Fever with a sprained ankle, the New York Liberty turned to the bench for an answer. Although Plenette Pierson started the game in McCarville�s place, Kia Vaughn owned the role, scoring 13 points and snagging seven rebounds over 26 minutes of play.

�I knew I had my teammates behind me,� Vaughn said after the 77-74 win. �It wasn�t on me, I just had to fill a role and actually go out there and be myself. Be aggressive, attack, keep the mindset and get what my teammates were going to give me.�

Vaughn, who averaged just 8.1 minutes and 2.1 points per game during the regular season, not only worked with what her teammates sent her way but was also a big presence all on her own on defense, on the boards and at the line. In fact, Vaughn�s night came to a head when she was sent to the line for two shots with 9.7 seconds remaining in the game, the score set at 76-74 in favor of the Liberty. Make both, and it all but takes Indy out of the game. Make one, and it�s on New York to limit the three. Miss both, and Indiana could steal the win.

One: Swish.

Two: Off the rim, out of bounds.

Indiana�s ball.

�I was just thinking, �Get back and get a stop,�� laughed Vaughn.

New York did just that, as a charging Briann January rushed down court and let a runner go from beyond the top of the arc, bouncing it off the rim, off the hardwood and right into the clutches of the Liberty�s Essence Carson. Time expired, and the Liberty burst into celebration.

�[If] you don�t know Kia Vaughn, you know Kia Vaughn now,� said an elated Cappie Pondexter following the win. �She was amazing. I feel her presence from the moment she stepped in the game to the end. We wouldn�t have won this game without her presence. The way she stepped up and made shots, grabbed rebounds, made plays on the defensive end � no way we would�ve walked out of here with a win without her.�

Head coach Anne Donovan shared the same sentiment.

�There is nobody that has worked harder this year and not really seen the results. Last game, I thought she had good minutes at Indiana which fortunately gave her confidence coming into the game tonight and with Janel out, we had to have her in the rotation. I think she surprised herself with how well she played and I know she surprised Indiana.�

McCarville remains listed as day-to-day for Sunday�s Conference Finals opener against the Dream. Whether she returns to the lineup or not, the Liberty can remain confident knowing that Vaughn is not far off, waiting for her chance to absorb the pressure.

�Opportunity was handed to me and I was on it,� said a proud, jubilant Vaughn.

�I got it done.�

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Liberty Comfortable Back Home
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

�We left in their minds that no matter how bad we�ve played we�re still going to get it together and come back at you. And I think we�re going to start Game Three like that.�

Encouraging words from the New York Liberty�s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who now in her 12th season in the WNBA is just six wins away from claiming another championship. She and the New York Liberty will look to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for a date with the Atlanta Dream following a tie-breaker win Wednesday night on their home court.

�Our home fans are amazing, and Madison Square Garden is clearly the best arena in the WNBA,� boasted McWilliams-Franklin. �For us, it�s one of the reasons we�re so happy we got home-court advantage, to be able to play in Madison Square Garden if there was a Game Three.�

Both teams have each claimed a win on their home turf so far in the series. The Liberty was a dominating 13-4 at Madison Square Garden during the regular season, including a 1-1 home record against the Fever.

On Sunday, the Fever�s defense, known for its bruising and smothering style of play, made a conscious effort to single out certain players on the Liberty, something McWilliams-Franklin believes will prove disastrous for the Fever if they look to that again in Game Three.

�I think they made a concerted effort to stop Cappie�s penetration and finishes around the rim, and in doing that left a lot of players open,� she said. �I really hope they do that again this game so we can make them pay for that.�

The Liberty nailed 9-of-21 three pointers in Game One, no doubt a contributing factor in the 85-73 win. Having noticed this, the Fever adjusted accordingly in Game Two, limiting New York to only 4-of-12 from behind the arc.

�We weren�t looking as much as we should�ve for our shooters in Game Two,� admitted McWilliams-Franklin. �We did have a lot of penetrations and hits on the ball and jump balls in the middle of the paint, and the post players - we really didn�t go to work in the paint, and that�ll open up our outside game when we do that.�

�We missed Nicole [Powell] on a lot of fast break opportunities and some skip passes in certain plays,� McWilliams-Franklin added, �so we�re definitely going to get our shooters ready and out there on the wings so we can kick them the ball in good spots and they can fire them up.�

If the first two games are any indication of what to expect in the third, than Wednesday�s game is sure to be a physical, hard-fought matchup between two teams vying for a title.

McWilliams-Franklin, no stranger to winning, previously claimed a championship as a member of the 2008 Detroit Shock and distinctly remembers the feeling of getting to the Finals, heading to the bench in the final minutes of the game and the smiles matted across the faces of teammates. It�s something she hopes to experience again with the Liberty.

�I�m old, that was a long time ago,� she said with a laugh. �I need a new one to make me feel better.�

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Pondexter Not Ruling Fever Out
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

New York�s Cappie Pondexter has gone through a series of adjustments this season. A new city, a new team and new teammates are just a few elements that have changed since 2009. Now, in her first postseason as a member of the Liberty, Pondexter is going up against a familiar foe. The Indiana Fever.

�I know Indiana,� she said, reflecting on last season�s WNBA Finals run. �They�re not going to go away. They�re going to make some adjustments.�

Last season Pondexter and her former team, the Phoenix Mercury, took part in a hard-fought, five-game Finals series against the Fever that ultimately sealed a second championship for the 27-year-old guard out of Rutgers. It would appear as if she�s on the right path to secure a third, as the Liberty took a 1-0 series lead over the Fever following Thursday night�s 85-73 win. Pondexter scored 28 points in the victory, including 15 points from downtown.

Confident as she may be, Pondexter is not about ready to take Indy for granted, throw a ribbon on it and call it a series. She knows the hole is not too deep for the Fever.

�Indiana�s going to come out with a fight,� Pondexter said, looking ahead at Sunday�s Game 2 in Indiana. �They�re, in my opinion, the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference, if not in the whole WNBA. So they�re going to make some huge adjustments.�

The fans at Conseco Fieldhouse will be behind their team in Game 2, providing a strong atmosphere for the Fever to try and gain that home-court advantage. It�s an arena Pondexter knows all too well.

�They�re really, really tough at home,� she said. �I�m sure they�re going to pack the house and make it crazy.�

The Fever posted a 12-5 record on their home court during the regular season, second in the East behind New York and Washington, each tied at 13-4. The Liberty posted a 1-1 record on the road in Indiana this season, with the only win coming earlier this month on August 3.

As New York remains one game away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Pondexter isn�t looking past Sunday�s matchup.

�You can�t be overconfident because just as high as you can go, you can go just as low,� said Pondexter. �So it�s just got to be an even keel.�

�Just take one game at a time.�

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McCarville Watching Liberty Grow
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

When the New York Liberty fell to the Detroit Shock in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, Janel McCarville was there. When the Liberty followed up in 2009 with a 13-21 record that caused them to miss the playoffs, Janel McCarville was there. And in 2010, as the Liberty turned over the roster through a series of trades and free-agent signings, Janel McCarville was there.

�We brought in a lot of people [and] we got rid of a lot of people,� said McCarville, now in her sixth year in the league and fourth with the Liberty. �I think that�s part of the reason why we started off so rocky. We weren�t cohesive, we didn�t gel together [and] we didn�t know each other�s tendencies.�

If anyone could identify those intricacies it�s McCarville, who currently stands as the only remaining starter from last season�s team and one of only five players to carry over from the 2009 squad. The others are Essence Carson, Leilani Mitchell, Sidney Spencer and Kia Vaughn. New York�s 7-9 record heading into the All-Star break found them on the outside of the playoff bubble, desperately in need of a turnaround. It was at this time that the team regained its composure, charged its engines and came out on fire in the second half.

�Starting at the All-Star break and after we really kind of buckled down,� said McCarville. �We went harder in practice and everyone was more focused. We really didn�t let anything affect us throughout the games. We were putting together good stretches in games. I think that slowly and collectively [we] built confidence, one through 11, and that�s what got us to this point.�

Finishing the season with an overall record of 22-12, �this point� is the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which pits the Liberty against the Fever. The regular season series was split at two apiece, and McCarville is the first to admit that there's not much separating the two teams as they head into their playoff matchup. With the exception of one thing.

�Home-court advantage is huge,� said McCarville. �The years that New York has been in the playoffs we�ve handled business at home. It�s basically put us into a good position going towards the Finals run.�

Series Info
Game 1: SEA 79, ATL 77: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 2: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 3: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video

Gm 1: SEA 82, PHX 74
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 91, PHX 88
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: SEA 79, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 81, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: PHX 106, SAN 93
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: PHX 92, SAN 73
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 81, NYL 75
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 105, NYL 93
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 95 WAS 90
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 101 WAS 77
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: NYL 85, IND 73
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: IND 75, NYL 67
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 3: NYL 77, IND 74
Box | Recap | Photos