Stokes and Charles lead Liberty in 84-67 win over Fever in game 1 of Eastern Conference finals
Led by a career-high 21 points from rookie center Kiah Stokes, the New York Liberty defeated the Indiana Fever 84-67 at Madison Square Garden in game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Sunday in Indianapolis at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Liberty are in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2010 and the eighth time in franchise history.
The Liberty put on a dominant performance just one night after defeating Washington in game three of the semifinal series with the Mystics. While the Fever had a day to rest, it was New York that looked energized from the tip after facing elimination from postseason play just 24 hours ago.
The Liberty scored on its first five possessions and hit all four three-point attempts in the first quarter to grab a 26-18 lead after 10 minutes of action. MSG’s home team never trailed during the contest. The Liberty’s reserves were crucial in the win, contributing more than 40 points for a second-straight game.
Veteran forward Tina Charles put on a show to compliment Stokes with a near triple-double of 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds plus two blocks. Her nine assists are a career-high for a playoff or regular season game.
“Tonight we saw the best player in the world out there,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer. “She put on a show. Tina [Charles] dominated the game all over. She imposed her will on this game… If you ask Tina (about dominating the game), she will tell you what I tell her all the time. I tell her when she is in games and she’s focused, just like she was tonight, she is the best player in the world, or should be the best player in the world. She can do things on the basketball court with her ability, mobility, size, and skill-level and intelligence factor. She can do it all. It’s a matter of if she can attain that level on a consistent, every night basis. She will tell you what I told her after the game, ‘This is the best player in the world that we talk about all of the time.'”
Two other Liberty players were also in double figures. Epiphanny Prince finished with 17 points and Sugar Rodgers added 14 points and five assists.
Only one Fever player scored in double figures: Shenise Johnson with 12 points.
- New York and Indiana are meeting in the conference finals for the first time. Their four prior playoff meetings were all in the semifinal round.
- The Liberty is one win away from the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2008, although New York ultimately lost the series to higher-seeded Detroit, 2-1.
- The Liberty gave up more than seven three-pointers per game against Indiana during the regular season but limited the Fever to 3-of-10 shooting from long distance on Wednesday night.
By the Numbers
Points in the Paint: Fever 38, Liberty 42
Second Chance Points: Fever 10, Liberty 16
Fastbreak Points: Fever 2, Liberty 7
Biggest Lead: Fever 0, Liberty 22
Lead Changes: 0
Times Tied: 4
New York head coach Bill Laimbeer
On tonight’s game
“I’m shocked at the effort, intensity, and focus that we exhibited in back-to-back games… I’m very proud of our players. But at the same time we all know that we only did what we are supposed to do. We win home games. We had a nice performance but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s one game. The next game is going to be harder.”
New York’s Tina Charles
On coming off back-to-back games
“That’s how I’ve been all year, just having confidence. We knew we had to go out and get the first points. We knew that to [Indiana] it would be them stealing this game, because of our back-to-back a lot of our players have played a lot of minutes; but to us we know what we want, and we’ll keep trying to take it from anyone who’s in front of us.”
On her triple-double
“There was a time where Teresa [Weatherspoon], Herb [Williams] and [Coach Laimbeer] were trying to tell me something but I didn’t know what they were talking about and then Teresa said if I got one more assist and three more rebounds I’d get a triple double. I was just happy we were winning, I wasn’t trying to force anything.”
On her performance tonight
“I just think Tina and the other players do a great job of finding me. I don’t think I did anything special, I just finished like I was supposed to.”
On Indiana’s defense
“If they go small we have to take advantage of our size. If Tina is getting double and triple teamed and I have a small defender on me, it’s my job to set up and dunk it hard on them.”
Indiana Fever head coach Stephanie White
On the Liberty’s performance tonight
“They brought it on the offensive end. You certainly know that they bring it on the defensive end every single day—they were knocking down shots. At the end of the day, they made all the hustle plays. They forced us into 16 turnovers for 24 points. They got all the o-boards and converted on every one of them. They did everything that they needed to do—from start to finish—to win the game. I thought they were very good on both ends of the court.”
On Tina Charles
“If I’m coach Laimbeer, I’m telling Tina Charles this is how she should play every day. She can dominate. The only person that can hold Tina Charles back, is Tina Charles. Sometimes that’s a mentality, sometimes it’s personality, sometimes it’s just that these guys play 12 months out of the year and it’s fatigue. She has the potential to be one of the greatest players that has ever played this game. The way she dominated tonight, the way she dominated inside—her nine assists—she’s become a much better passer, she’s extended her range, she just keeps adding dimensions to her game. She’s incredibly talented and has the potential to be a hall of famer.”
On her experience this year
“I think it’s been a fun year. It’s been a really great year, and a learning experience for me and a learning experience for our team. It’s been a transition period; we’re farther along of where I thought we would be at this time in terms of the way that we wanted to play. I love our team’s chemistry. I love our team’s toughness. I love that they want to make one another better. I feel as the season has gone on, we’ve gotten better. That was my goal for our team when we started the year; every day we want to get better. By the end of the season, we want to much better than we were two months in. I think we’ve continued to do that. We took a step back today and we didn’t play our best game. New York is a big part of why, their defense is tremendous and we didn’t respond.”
On the bench’s performance
“I am really proud of our bench; the way that they came in at the end and just fought. They played hard. It’s hard to sit on the bench for the many games that they have and come in and still be ready and still be prepared to play. So I have to give a lot of ups to our team and our vets that came out and played with a lot of fight down the stretch.”
On the team’s performance
“We are at our best when we defend, get rebounds, and push the ball in transition. They shot 60 percent in the game, which is not the best for us. Whether it’s me looking for my shot or being able to create for somebody else’s shot, I think that down the stretch everyone started looking up at the clock and tried to do it by themselves, even me. That is not when we are our best. We are at our best when we share the ball and the move the ball and hit open shots. Some of our shots weren’t falling tonight, so it’s kind of like when you start to think a little bit more, and we are too good of a team for that.”
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