NEWARK -- Neither team had anything tangible to play for Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center. The Liberty already had clinched a playoff spot and the Tulsa Shock could not improve on its fifth-place finish. You wouldn't have known it. Tulsa came out firing and the Liberty fired back, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit to win, 91-74.
The Liberty finishes the regular season 15-19 and will play the Connecticut Sun on Thursday in the first game of the best-of-three series. The Liberty was 1-4 against Connecticut this year. The winner will face either Indiana or Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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New York outscored Tulsa 24-9 in the third quarter, bringing the crowd to life on Fan Appreciation Day. The Liberty was led by its usual trio. Plenette Pierson scored 19 points with eight rebounds, Essence Carson had 18 with eight boards, and Cappie Pondexter scored 17 points. The Liberty's 91 points was a season high. Ivory Latta led the Shock (9-24) with 16.
Liberty coach John Whisenant said he wouldn't have been overly disappointed by a loss, but he certainly didn't want his team heading into the playoffs having played the way it did in the first half. The Liberty responded with a huge second half. "Our energy and alertness and ability to score comes from our defense," Whisenant said. "We don't have the kind of team that has four or five big scorers. Our defense feeds our offense and that's what happened in the second half."
The Shock built its first-half lead by shooting 7 of 15 from three-point range. Tulsa hit just 2 of 14 from deep in the second half as the Liberty did a better job of jumping out on shooters and cutting off driving lanes. The Liberty out-rebounded Tulsa 32-19. Whisenant said rebounding will be critical against Connecticut, which is led by Team USA's starting center Tina Charles.
"Today showed that if we play defense like we did in the second half, we can hang with anybody," Pondexter said. "We need to do it for 40 minutes against Connecticut."
The Liberty respects its I-95 rival, but isn't afraid of taking on the No. 1 seed. "We're in the playoffs, so we've got a shot," Whisenant said.
Notes & quotes: Before the game, Pondexter addressed the fans to thank them for their support this season and tell them she will remain on the team for the next three seasons . . . This is the Liberty's third straight playoff appearance. Its first home playoff game is scheduled for next Sunday.