NEW YORK, NY - Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals pitted the New York Liberty against the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden. In a battle that epitomized postseason play, the game reached double overtime before an eventual 86-83 Washington win. The hard-fought matchup featured 23 different lead changes in total.
New York started the playoffs as the top overall seed, earning home court advantage in the best-of-three series. Meanwhile, the Mystics entered the game as the fourth seed in the East after finishing the regular season 18-16.
Washington Head Coach Mike Thibault said after the game, "It was a great basketball game for us. As young as we are, it was kind of a gut check game. Over the year, there were games we were struggling with and somehow tonight we found a way to get things done but our defense down the stretch was good. "
However, Thibault's team got off to a slow start. At the 6:25 mark in the first quarter the Liberty went on an 11-0 run. New York's leading scorer Tina Charles added nine points in the quarter, helping her team to a 21-14 lead heading into the second.
While Epiphanny Prince started the quarter with a bucket for New York, the Mystics came out with new energy. The squad capitalized on costly Liberty turnovers and missed shots.
Washington quickly closed the gap, tying things up at the 4:37 mark at 27 points apiece. A made Prince three with less than a minute left gave her 16 points in the half. Both teams entered the locker room with the game tied at 36. It would be far from the only tie of the game.
"I hope a lot of people are watching. If anyone watched that game tonight, you had to say that was great basketball. That's a great stage for the league right there," said Thibault.
The momentum of the second quarter carried into the half, with five total lead changes in the third quarter. Stefanie Dolson added seven points for the Mystics in the quarter, while Swin Cash and Prince added five apiece for the Liberty.
At the end of the third, the Liberty led 56-55.
The fourth quarter proved to be a defensive battle as each team fought for control of the game. At 3:53 the game was tied up, and a back-and-forth battle ensued.
Washington's Tayler Hill attempted a deep three as the shot clock expired at the 1:08 mark to no avail, putting the ball in the hands of the Liberty. Tina Charles drove to the basket, getting the And-1 in front of a roaring home crowd to give her team a one-point lead with less than a minute to go. She would again be the hero less than 30 seconds later with a layup to extend the lead.
After the game, Charles told media, "This is my job. This is what I wanted to do; I'm going to do whatever it takes."
Despite Charles' heroics, the Mystics kept their cool. Ivory Latta squared up from behind the three-point arc and made the basket to tie things up again with under 30 seconds to go. The game would be forced into OT.
Latta shielded applause away from herself, stating, "I credit my teammates, the energy, the positivity. That right there gives me all the energy I need. I'm going to lay my body on the line and do whatever it takes."
In OT, Latta once again hit a three before Wright retaliated with one of her own on the opposite end. After getting fouled at the 1:48 mark, Wright would miss both of her free throws, keeping things within one.
Late in the period, Prince pulled up for a deep two and gave her team the lead, it looked promising for the home team. However, an Emma Meesseman two for Washington sent the game into yet another overtime period.
In double overtime, Tanisha Wright hit a three with four minutes left, but Washington's Kara Lawson hit a driving layup with around 1:30 left to give her team the two-point lead. After a Washington free-throw, the Liberty were down by three. A Stokes steal in the paint gave them a chance, but Prince's shot at the other end came up short.
Washington would eventually hold on for the 86-83 win.
Latta finished with 15 for the Mystics, while Charles added 22 for the Liberty to go along with Prince's game-high 26.
When asked how she felt about entering Sunday's game down one, Charles said, "I'm looking forward to it. I've been in situations like this is before. We have great veterans, great leadership."
The game comes a day after New York Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer was named the 2015 WNBA Coach of the Year. He was honored at half court before the game, bringing his whole coaching staff on the floor with him as he accepted the award. The nod comes after the Liberty finished the most successful regular season in franchise history with a record of 23-11.
Following the game Laimbeer explained, "we got beat at home, now we have to win on the road. We're the best road team in the league, now we just have to go show it."
Game 2 takes place Sunday at Washington at 1:00 PM.