Published September 17, 2011
NEWARK, N.J. – After losing the opener of their playoff series against Indiana, the New York Liberty relied on their strength in Game 2: their defense.
Nicole Powell scored 19 points, Plenette Pierson had 15 and the Liberty beat the Fever 87-72 Saturday to even the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals.
Cappie Pondexter scored 14, Essence Carson had 12 and Kia Vaughn 10 for New York, which had 11 steals, blocked five shots, and scored 28 points off Indiana's 18 turnovers.
"We really focused on playing team defense, stopping penetration and keying in on their key players," Carson said. "We just played our defense, our white-line defense. Today, everyone was very, very focused. It was win or go home, and obviously no one wanted to go home."
The Liberty shot 50 percent from the field (30 for 60) and were 20 for 21 on free throws. Pierson shot 7 for 11 and Powell was 6 for 9.
Katie Douglas scored 20 points and Shavonte Zellous had 13 for the Fever. Indiana leading scorer Tamika Catchings was held to two points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. She had nine rebounds, but finished with six turnovers.
The Fever shot 46 percent (30 for 66) from the field, but were just 5 for 10 from the line. Douglas scored 11 points in the first quarter on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3 for 4 on 3s, and was 3 for 11 from the field the rest of the way, including 0 for 6 from beyond the arc.
"All credit goes to New York," Zellous said. "They just came out with a sense of urgency. They came and attacked us and I guess we were on the back of our heels and they came out with a victory."
Game 3 is Monday night in Indianapolis.
"Both teams are going to have a sense of urgency," Zellous said. "It's going to be a battle, Game 3, do or die. Somebody's got to go home."
Carson had a jumper and a layup in the opening minute of the fourth to stretch New York's lead to 66-50.
After Indiana pulled within 12 on Tammy Sutton-Brown's layup and Douglas' free throw on a technical on Pondexter, the Liberty went on a 9-0 run to take control. Pierson scored the first seven points and Carson made two free throws with 5:08 remaining to put New York ahead 76-55.
Powell's two free throws with 1:50 remaining gave the Liberty their biggest lead at 85-61.
"The game was about making runs," said Vaughn, who received the WNBA's most improved player award before the game. "We made our run, they made their run early and it was mostly about us trying to keep our momentum and the tempo on our side and we did pretty good. We shot well. Overall, they kept fighting, and we just attacked, building and building and building."
New York bounced back from a 74-72 loss at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Liberty trailed by 15 in the third quarter of Game 1 before rallying to tie the score in the final minute.
"As long as we have our defense, no matter how much we're down, we're able to come back," Carson said. "It's up to us to really put it together from start to finish."
Both teams shot poorly in the third quarter. Indiana was 4 for 13, while New York was 4 for 15 and finished with a 12-9 scoring edge in the period. The Fever were 1 for 2 from the free-throw line, while New York went 4 for 4 to increase its nine-point halftime lead to 12.
The Fever missed their first six shots and the Liberty were 1 for 8 over the first 5½ minutes of the third. Douglas' layup with 4:24 to go ended Indiana's scoring drought. Powell's layup with about 12 seconds to go gave New York a 62-50 lead heading to the fourth.
Pondexter had a jumper and a three-point play to give New York a 31-30 lead with 7:10 remaining in the second quarter. It was the Liberty's first advantage since 2-0 in the opening minute of the game.
Erin Phillips hit a jumper 9 seconds later to regain the Fever's lead, but Leilani Mitchell made a 3 to put New York back ahead. After Sutton-Brown's layup with 6:11 to go in the half tied it, the Liberty took the lead for good with a 10-0 run. Pondexter and Mitchell each made a 3 during the spurt.
Douglas and Tangela Smith had consecutive baskets to pull Indiana within seven, but Kara Braxton's layup in the final minute gave New York a 50-41 lead at the break.
Indiana led most of the first quarter until Mitchell's 3 — the Liberty's fourth basket from beyond the arc — tied it at 20 with 45 seconds left. Douglas responded with her third 3 of the game 17 seconds later to give Indiana the lead after 10 minutes.