As the clock ticks down the minutes and hours until Madison Square Garden opens up, Swish Appeal is here to give a preview of the deciding game of the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals.
All season, the Indiana Fever (3-2) had to deal with various injuries to key members of the team. Tamika Catchings, the team's soul, missed some time at the beginning of the season, and has dealt with nagging back pain all season.
They also dealt with a rough start to the season, starting off 1-4 before going into the All-Star break with an 8-8 record. It's fair to say that they had to scrap to get to this point in the season.
The New York Liberty, on the other hand, were fairly healthy all year. The team was 12-5 going into the All-Star break, and were the top defensive team in the league, allowing a league-low 71.1 points per game. Tina Charles, the team's unquestioned leader, put the team on her back, and had a strong shot at becoming the league MVP.
Now, all the hard work and sacrifices have led to this decisive game three. We're going to break down what both teams have going for them, and what they don't.
Do's: Without a doubt, Tamika Catchings is the heartbeat of the team. One of only two players on the team averaging 10 or more points per game in the playoffs (Shenise Johnson the other), she has willed the Fever to within a game of pulling off the biggest upset in these playoffs.
Her 25-point performance in game two has given the Liberty something to fear going into tonight's game. Add to that her 6.4 rebounds per game and she is an all around threat. However, that's not to say the rest of the Fever are slouches.
Johnson, Catchings, Briann January and Shavonte Zellous are all seasoned vets who have had a taste of championship basketball. Of the four, three of them (January, Catchings and Zellous) were on the 2012 WNBA championship team. To add to that, they are the only Eastern Conference team to make it to five straight Eastern Conference finals.
Dont's: The Fever are having a hard time defensively, as witnessed by the 84-67 beating they took in game 1 of this series. They are allowing 79.2 points per game in these playoffs, a dangerous formula against the #1-seeded Liberty.
On top of that, they're only averaging .4 points more than that offensively (79.6). If they're to make it to the Finals, they'll need to score fast, and smother the Liberty from the first minute all the way to the final buzzer. If not, they'll be going home for the fall.
NEW YORK LIBERTY
Do's: The Liberty are fueled by the inspiring play of Tina Charles. Currently third in playoff scoring (21.8 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (8.4 rebounds per game), she is making a strong case for playoff MVP.
Epiphanny Prince is doing a fine job as Charles' right-hand woman, putting up 14.6 ppg and making key free throws (91.7 FT%, best among current playoff teams). The team as a whole is also keeping up with their defensive presence, allowing a playoff-low 73 points per game. Remember, they only allowed 70 points to Indiana in their game two loss.
Dont's: Head coach Bill Laimbeer may have a priority placed on defense, but the scoring could use more punch behind Charles and Prince. Besides Sugar Rodgers (10.6 ppg), there isn't another scoring threat that they can lean on. If Kiah Stokes and Candice Wiggins can make their presence known in game 3, they may stand a chance.
Also, the team has a history going against them. The Liberty haven't seen the Finals since 2002, and the last time they went, they were swept by Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks.
In fact, four teams have won multiple championships since they last went (Detroit Shock, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm), and one champion (the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs in 2006) is no longer in the league. They're also facing the Fever, who just won it all three years ago.
Game 3 is on tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2. The game will be held at the Madison Square Garden in New York.