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Prince is the catalyst as Liberty tame Lynx

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Epiphanny Prince (22 points) and Tina Charles (18 points, 11 rebounds) were the stars, but a team effort powered the New York Liberty to a playoff-clinching win over the Minnesota Lynx, 81-68. For dodgy officiating, unmitigated glee, dysfunctional cats, questionable dancing, gymnastics, green hair, and the general admission shuffle, join your intrepid and sweaty blogger after the jump.

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So, as we all expected, the best of the West come to visit the beasts of the East tonight. It's a showdown at the Garden, and best record in the league is on the line for the New York Liberty and the Minnesota Lynx. I am hyped like you wouldn't believe.

Public transit does not have good omens today, given that it took half an hour just for a bus to arrive, whereupon three of them arrived at once, and now we're being held because of trains ahead of us somewhere west of Union Square. I cannot be having with this today, MTA.

Preliminary reports indicate a lot of tickets sold just on pregame word of mouth. Looks like it's going to be another big crowd. I love it. We're not yet back to the golden days where even the upper bowl was occupied on a regular basis, but we're getting there.

It's going to be interesting how seriously New York takes a potential Finals opponent and best record, as opposed to how seriously they take tomorrow's road game at Connecticut; after all, we have a rivalry with Connecticut, built on the roll of the dice and the whims of a Husky, and games in conference are more important than cross-conference games. On the other hand, tonight could be clinch night.

Seimone Augustus will not be playing this evening. She looks very well put together, but that medical boot just ruins the whole look. :P

Pregame entertainment this evening has been a young gymnastics group and a dance group with glittery dresses (but at least they're over the age of consent).

Got the chance to chat with a couple of simply darling Lynx fans who were in town on vacation from Minnesota and decided to check out the game while they were here. Sweet folks. Lynx-green hair is a bonus.

At halftime, the Liberty are up on the Lynx 43-38. The general admission shuffle continues to be a bit of an issue. It's been punch-counterpunch. The D clamps down at the right times. I also highly disapprove of the calls against Essence Carson.

This team. This beautiful clutch team. This team that comes together and communicates and has two stars to light the way and a whole beautiful constellation around them. My team, y'all. My team.

I don't know what's wrong with the Lynx, but from my one-game-in-opposing-stands view, it does not look good. I don't see communication. I see Cheryl Reeve blowing through her timeouts like Chestnutt at a hot-dog eating contest. I don't see a consistently flowing offense. I see a team with deep-seated trust issues.

I don't think Reeve trusts the bench. I don't think the starters trust Reeve. I see a team with the two playbooks Reeve talked about when she talked about the trade, except that they are two disparate playbooks and they're trying to use both of them at the same tim, instead of putting some pages from one into the other.

Renee Montgomery played in the first half, but not in the second. She had a little shake-and-bake, but she was otherwise unremarkable. Tricia Liston played the entire fourth quarter. She used her build well defensively against smaller players, but she seems scared to shoot anything that isn't either wide open or a three-pointer. She passed off a couple of good midrange looks.

Devereaux Peters, who I really need to get to know just so I can call her Dev and not have to spell her full name, played a lot of minutes, especially in the second half. She boxed out well. She's still foul-prone, though. Asjha Jones was unafraid to shoot, and to shoot jumpers. She showed moments of the All-Star she once was, but she settled too easily for offense on the perimeter.

The maestra Lindsay Whalen didn't look as in command as she usually does. There were moments where the passing was crisp and the ball was moving, but there was a lot of stagnancy and a lot of one-on-one play.

Whalen seemed to be taking on a lot of offensive responsibility early, but she was bottled up pretty much after the first quarter. Anna Cruz had drives that should have been made, yet weren't, which I'm okay with as a Liberty fan. I feel like she might have wanted to assert herself as a point guard more, yet took a step back because of Whalen.

Rebekkah Brunson barely played. She had a couple of nice plays on the glass, but I wonder if she tweaked something, and that was why Reeve leaned so heavily on Peters. (If that's the case, then playing the big lineup with Moore at the 2 was a riskier move than I thought at first glance.)

Sylvia Fowles was competent down low, but got outclassed by Tina Charles. She's great at what she does, at both ends of the floor, but she feels like a square peg that is somehow not fitting the square hole created by the aging of the Lynx rotation. I don't get it. Maya Moore did Maya Moore things, but her shot looked really off.

She had a couple of bad misses, and seemed to be relying more on her athleticism to make plays on off-balance shots than she was her talent. The second quarter was her time, as much on free throws as on shots from the field.

Sugar Rodgers provided a couple of big threes to really break Minnesota's collective back. She's still streaky, but oh, when she's on. Candice Wiggins was pesky on defense and came up with a couple of shots late. Brittany Boyd was way too hyped up for this game- she played about two speeds too fast, her shots going too long, her passes a little too far ahead. But that drive at the end of the first quarter was a momentum swinger.

Essence Carson brought some defense, but Maya Moore outclassed her. And she knew it. She doesn't have the step she needs to keep up with a superstar like Moore, but as soon as she was beaten, she called for help.

Avery Warley-Talbert is a sweet person, but she has no business in a game that's still competitive, which includes pretty much the first half of any game. Kiah Stokes was a beast on the boards, and she changed a couple of shots- didn't get credit for the blocks, but you can't always get what you want.

Epiphanny Prince came up with a couple of big shots to beat the shot clock, and played solid defense. Much was asked of her, and much was received. Tanisha Wright locked down on defense and got the team started on the right foot, no pun intended.

Tina Charles was fantastic down low. She took more long jumpers than I would have liked, but they went in, for the most part, especially in the second half. I can't complain when they go in. Swin Cash was gritty and gluey and set the tone early. I tend to underestimate what she brings to the table, but tonight, she showed why she's still starting. So did Carolyn Swords.

One would think she'd be outmatched against Fowles. One would forget that she spent some time as Fowles's practice buddy in Chicago, and she knows more than just about anyone in the league about Big Syl's tendencies. She started the game on fire, and for the first time in a few games, I objected to Kiah coming in for her on the usual rotation. (Which is nothing against Kiah. But you ride the hot hand until it cools.)

What doesn't come through in the player-by-player notes is the sheer amount of communication amongst the team. Essence gets beat by Maya Moore? Maya's still in that first step when Essence calls for the switch. Tina's being held? She calls for Essence to leave her assignment and crash the boards.

Piph was involved in both plays of the game. The first to mention, of course, is the four-point play, taking "three the hard way" to a whole new level. The other was a hustle play. Kiah gets the rebound, saves it on the baseline, hurling it wildly towards the sideline by the scorer's table. Tanisha makes an equally fantastic save on the sideline, out to Piph, and the crowd goes wild. That kind of hard work is what wins a New York crowd.

I don't even know what to say about those officials, only that I find it very strange that a team that relied more on midrange jumpers took twice as many free throws as the team that primarily took the ball into the paint. I don't necessarily ask for competency; I ask for consistency, and especially after a second quarter with an 8-2 differential, I question the consistency.

Really big crowd tonight, and it looks like MSG is starting to get the message tht 9K is the new normal. More food stands were open, more ushers were around, and more security was available at the gates. Made the experience a lot easier for people.

The general admission shuffle is still a problem, but one that's sort of inevitable for the concept. I do think the sections need to be more clearly articulated, but if people are coming through the door, and they're enjoying the game, and they're planning to come back, I can't really protest too much.

A couple of baby Knicks showed up, as did Allan Houston and one of the Property Brothers. This is one of the other things I like: we're starting to see a sort of Celebrity Row. Liberty games are a place to be seen.

The problem with loving this team this much is that it's hard to put squee and warm fuzzy feelings into words. I just want to hug them and squish them and tell them all how wonderful they are, how much fun they are to watch as basketball players and how great it is to see them be teammates to each other.

Playoffs, baby!