It's hard to deny that the WNBA's new playoff format gives the second-seeded Liberty some margin for error in its Eastern Conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Indiana Fever.
In the moments after Thursday's 85-73 win over Indiana at the Garden in Game 1 of the best-of-three series, many Liberty players were talking about the tough task of playing the Fever in front of what should be a raucous crowd Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana.
One thing mentioned prominently was the fact that Game 3, if necessary, will be at the Garden on Wednesday. In previous seasons, the higher seed opened on the road and played Games 2 and 3 on its home court. Although the higher-seeded team had the advantage of two home games if needed, the old format added extra pressure if the lower seed won the first game.
"It is tremendous to see finally change," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said. "The thought of having to have played this game in Indiana, get that win and come back to win two in the Garden, or one . . . We're glad that the league changed that."
Cappie Pondexter, who scored 28 points Thursday - a franchise postseason record - was equally excited about getting a win at home to start the playoffs. "It means a lot,'' she said. "You want to start the series the right way."
The new format notwithstanding, Liberty players know the defending Eastern Conference champion Fever will be tough on any court. "It's at their place, and it's a tough place to play for anyone," said guard Essence Carson, who had 17 points in Game 1. "They're down one game, so I expect them to come out really, really strong."
The Liberty also received strong efforts from its veteran trio of Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Nicole Powell and Plenette Pierson. McWilliams-Franklin had 15 points, Powell 13 and Pierson chipped in nine points in 16 minutes off the bench.
"Taj stepped up big time and the other players stepped up and that's the difference in the game," Indiana forward Tamika Catchings said.
The Liberty outrebounded the Fever 39-25 and scored 22 second-chance points. Liberty forward Janel McCarville scored only two points but had seven rebounds, five offensive.
"If we have any hope of beating this team at home, we have to do a better job on the boards, and this has been a thing all year long," Fever coach Lin Dunn said.