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Fire zone: Charles' hot 3rd quarter lifts Liberty past Mystics

With New York's season hanging in the balance, Tina Charles gave them all the inspiration they needed. Charles scored 17 points in the 3rd to push the Liberty past the Mystics.

Chris Poss

Washington, D.C. -- The New York Liberty played like a team whose entire season was on the line Sunday afternoon, which is very appropriate considering those were the stakes of the contest against the Mystics in Washington, D.C.

Ultimately the Liberty would keep their own season alive and regain home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference semi-finals with their 86-68 win over the Mystics

New York was led by Tina Charles with 22 points and Carolyn Swords with 12. Washington leaned on the offensive play of Tayler Hill with 19 points and veteran Ivory Latta, who chipped in 14.  Hill's performance came behind a game-high six three-pointers.

"Nothing to me tonight was easy," Charles said of her performance. "I just wasn't satisfied with the way I played in the first half, I thought I could have been smarter.  I saw a couple of shots go in—I got confidence and I just kept attacking."

Whether it was a case of "winner's high" From their double overtime win in New York, or just sheer tiredness, the Mystics looked slower out of the gate than normal.

From the beginning of the first quarter, it was evident that New York City could feel that this might be their last game. Epiphanny Prince started off the game by hitting an and-one three-pointer to propel the Mystics on an early run. Prince would be dominant offensively during the 1st quarter, scoring 9 points in the first ten minutes of play, and gaining a 23-15 edge over Washington.

By about halfway through the second quarter, it seemed that Sunday's battle in the nation's capital could be a blowout—but Hill would have something to say about that. Slowly but surely the Mystics would begin to chip away at a 19 point deficit. Hill would hit four three-pointers in the second quarter to help lead the charge and cut New York's lead to 7, 44-37.

"We were executing on the offensive end but our offense came from our defense first," Hill said of the Mystics second quarter. "We were getting stops, we were rebounding."

Charles would put to rest any chance that the Mystics had of coming back in the third. Charles exploded for 17 points, scoring 17 of the Liberty's 26 third quarter points.  The WNBA veteran easily and effectively answered every Mystics offensive play, giving New York a 70-52 lead heading into the last quarter.

"Our defense carried us throughout the game," Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said. "And then, Tina took over. It was a great performance she put on in that third quarter.  Really cemented the game for us."

"I only got one word, embarrassing" Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said. "We've got so many young players I don't know if they know how to handle this yet. ... Closing out a series is really hard, at any level, at any sport, it's just difficult."

The Mystics would be unable to mount a comeback during the final quarter as both teams cleared their benches. The series will be decided in New York on Tuesday at 7 PM where the winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.