NEW YORK — The Indiana Fever rallied from a 1-0 deficit to defeat the Chicago Sky in their best-of-three first round playoff series earlier this week. If the Fever want to advance to the WNBA Finals, they’ll need to come from behind in another series, as the New York Liberty rolled to an 84-67 victory over Indiana in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty, the top overall seed in the East, were forced to play an unusual playoffs back-to-back. New York defeated Washington on Tuesday night, 79-74, to advance to the conference finals, which were supposed to begin on Thursday. However, Pope Francis’ scheduled visit to Madison Square Garden necessitated that the WNBA move Game 1 up a day.
But the Liberty hardly showed any signs of fatigue on Wednesday night. New York never trailed in Game 1 and actually got better as the game wore on.
The Liberty shot 60 percent in the first half and knocked down 6-of-9 3-point attempts. But the Fever remained within striking distance at the break, thanks to their own 63-percent shooting performance.
PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 67, Liberty 84 (Game 1) »
New York opened up the ballgame in the third quarter, as the Fever went ice cold. Indiana missed its first seven field goal attempts after halftime and made just 2-of-16 shots in the period. The hosts took advantage, outscoring the Fever 16-7 in the period to stretch their lead to 15 points.
New York led by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter and Fever head coach Stephanie White had removed all her starters from the game with 3:30 remaining.
“They did everything they needed to do from start to finish to win the ball game,” White said. “They came out and I thought they were just very good on both ends of the floor.”
The Liberty’s frontcourt duo of Tina Charles and Kiah Stokes gave Indiana fits. It didn’t help that Fever forward Lynetta Kizer was in street clothes for the game due to a sore knee.
Charles, who averaged 22 points per game in New York’s first round series with Washington, had 18 points and seven rebounds. More impressive, however, were her nine assists — two more than the four-time All-Star had ever dished out in a single game in her entire WNBA career.
Stokes, the Liberty’s first-round draft pick, finished with 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Stokes’ career high entering Wednesday was 13 points.
“Kiah was the big difference tonight,” Fever star Tamika Catchings said after the loss. “She came out off the bench, got rebounds, got putbacks. That was my responsibility, so I’ll take ownership of that.”
Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers balanced out New York’s offensive arsenal. The two guards combined for 31 points (17 for Prince and 14 for Rodgers) and each knocked down 4-of-6 3-pointers.
Shenise Johnson led Indiana with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in the loss. No other Fever players scored in double figures.
Catchings, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in postseason play, finished with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting in 29 minutes. Catchings had averaged 23.3 points per game in the first round series with Chicago.
The best-of-three series now shifts to Indianapolis, where the Fever will host Game 2 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 PM.