Cappie Pondexter scored 23 of her 28 points in the first half, Essence Carson scored nine of her 17 in a big fourth-quarter run and the New York Liberty beat the Indiana Fever 85-73 Thursday night in the opening game of their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Nicole Powell added 13 points for the Liberty, who closed the regular season with 15 wins in 18 games after the All-Star break.
Tamika Catchings scored 18 points, Ebony Hoffman had 13 and Tammy Sutton-Brown added 10 for the Fever, who were in first place heading into the final week but lost their last three and finished one game behind Washington and New York.
Game 2 is Sunday at Indianapolis and Game 3, if necessary will be next Wednesday back in Madison Square Garden.
Pondexter topped the Liberty's previous postseason record of 24 points, set by Tari Phillips against Houston in Game 1 of the WNBA finals on Aug. 24, 2000. Pondexter tied the team's playoff record for 3-pointers, set by Vickie Johnson on Aug. 24, 2002, in Game 2 of the conference finals against Washington.
Powell's jumper with 2:15 left in the third quarter gave the Liberty the lead for good as they closed the period with a 9-2 run to take a 66-59 advantage heading to the fourth. The Liberty outscored Indiana 17-12 in the quarter and outshot the Fever 40 percent (8 for 20) to 31 percent (4 for 13).
Carson had nine points in a 17-2 spurt that extended New York's lead to 83-63 — its biggest of the game — with 2:40 left.
Hoffman's 3-pointer 14 seconds later — the Fever's third field goal of the fourth quarter — ended their scoring drought of 4:39.
Indiana shot 53 percent (17 for 32) in the first half, but just 30 percent (9 for 30) over the final 20 minutes.
The Fever opened the second quarter with an 11-2 run to take a 33-23 lead on Catchings' layup with 7:40 to go in the first half.
The Liberty scored the next seven points, pulling within four on Pondexter's 3 about a minute later. She hit another 3 and Carson had a layup cut the deficit 38-36 with about 4½ minutes to go in the second quarter.
Pondexter's fifth 3 of the game tied the score at 43-all with 2:05 to go in the half.
Mitchell made two free throws with less than a second left to give New York a 48-47 lead at the break.