WASHINGTON - The Liberty staved off elimination exactly the way you'd expect from a team coached by former Detroit Pistons "Bad Boy" Bill Laimbeer.
The Liberty was the aggressor on both ends of the Verizon Center court in an 86-68 victory over the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday. The victory forces a deciding Game 3 at the Garden Tuesday as the Liberty -- owners of the best regular-season record -- seeks the franchise's first WNBA title.
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"We did not do the little things to win playoff games [in Game 1]," said Laimbeer, selected WNBA Coach of the Year for the third time Friday. "They watched the film. They saw their defensive mistakes. They saw their not-boxing-out mistakes. They saw their turnovers and missed free throws. They knew they had that game and gave it away. That didn't happen today."
The Liberty scored 36 points in the paint; the Mystics were held to 10 down low. The Liberty also outrebounded the Mystics 33-24, including a 10-6 edge in offensive boards. The Mystics turned the ball over 14 times versus six by the Liberty.
"We lost the physical part of the game badly," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said.
Liberty center Tina Charles stung the Mystics from the perimeter with a game-high 22 points. "Tina just took it upon herself," Laimbeer said. "Whoever gets hot, we try to ride. Tina got hot and we said, 'OK, keep going, Tina.' When she's like that and so engaged, she's unstoppable."
Charles netted 17 points in the third quarter as the Liberty pushed a seven-point halftime lead (44-37) to 18 (70-52) entering the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't satisfied by the way I played the first half," Charles said. "I thought I could've been smarter. Once I saw my first shot [of the second half go in], I got some confidence and kept attacking. I was in the zone and I played like this game was my last. We wanted to see Tuesday."
The Mystics won the opening game in double overtime, 86-83, but trailed all of Game 2 as the Liberty scored the first six points of the game.
The Liberty's first-quarter lead peaked at 13 points after Epiphanny Prince hit two free throws with 1:31 left in the opening period. The Liberty led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before the Mystics cut it to single digits at the half.
The Liberty lead topped out at 26 points as Sugar Rodgers, who had 15 points off the bench, banked in a jumper to make it 84-58 with three minutes left.
The Mystics made 12 of 21 three-point attempts, led by Tyler Hill, who was 6-for-7 and scored 19 points.
"We have to defend the three better," Liberty guard Tanisha Wright said. "They did a good job knocking down threes. We had a couple mix-ups with our rotations. At that point, we were up big, so it didn't impact the game. Those are mistakes you can't have."