Bill Laimbeer had his concession speech prepared.

The Liberty coach was proud of his team, he said. There was a time early in the offseason when the only thing the Liberty could realistically look forward to was the draft lottery, so getting to the playoffs was a victory in itself.

Laimbeer said this to the media last Tuesday, after the Liberty beat the Mystics to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. "This would have been my speech," he said, "if we hadn't made it out of the first round."

Now, as the Liberty visits the Indiana Fever on Sunday and tries to clinch its first WNBA Finals appearance since 2002, there is no need for any of that. After beating the Fever in Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Wednesday night, the top-seeded Liberty is in control and striding confidently in the direction of what could be the first championship in franchise history.

It's possible that Laimbeer will never have to use that concession speech this season.

"Just having confidence," Tina Charles said of the team's strategy after its 84-67 blowout of the Fever, a team that won four of five games against the Liberty in the regular season. "We knew we had to go out and get the first points . . . Because of our back-to-back, a lot of our players have played a lot of minutes; but to us, we know what we want."

Charles wants a championship with her hometown team, and she's fully aware that those types of dreams don't come easy. For one, the Liberty, which lost Game 1 to the Mystics, had to play two straight elimination games. After winning Game 3, 79-74, on Tuesday night, the Liberty was back in the Garden the next night to play Indiana.

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Charles and Laimbeer said sleep (or even rest) has been elusive, but "no, I'm not tired," Charles said with a smirk. "I can play again right now."

Added Kiah Stokes: "She never sleeps."

Charles is an All-Star who plays year-round but lacked focus in the past, Laimbeer said. She had one of the most offensively complete games in playoff history on Wednesday night, posting 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

"We saw the best player in the world out there," Laimbeer said. "She put on a show . . . She imposed her will on this game . . . I tell her when she is in games and she's focused, just like she was tonight, she is the best player in the world, or should be the best player in the world.''

She was further bolstered by a bench as good as most starting fives. Led by Stokes, who recently was named part of the all-rookie team, the bench scored 41 points Wednesday night, the second straight game in which the Liberty reserves scored more than 40.

Sugar Rodgers was 4-for-6 from behind the arc and scored 14 points. She's averaging 16.3 points in the last three games.

Stokes also was responsible for the most pivotal block of the season: a tip of Ivory Latta's potential tying three-pointer with less than 30 seconds left in Game 3 against the Mystics.

It still won't be easy. The Liberty has never won a playoff game in Indiana in five tries. And in winning the last four regular-season games against the Liberty, which had the best defense in the league (71.1 ppg against), the Fever averaged a little more than 80 points per game.

Laimbeer, who won two NBA championships as a player for the Detroit Pistons and three WNBA championships as coach of the Detroit Shock, isn't particularly concerned about that season series, though.

"I don't know how long this is going to last," he said as his concession speech that day veered back to reality. "Enjoy the ride."