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Liberty's Tina Charles gets her wish: Playing for a WNBA championship

New York Liberty's Tina Charles shoots against Connecticut

New York Liberty's Tina Charles shoots against Connecticut Sun's Elizabeth Williams, left, and Connecticut Sun's Chelsea Gray during the first quarter of a WNBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden, Thursday, July 16, 2015. Credit: Jason DeCrow

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Tina Charles had a vision dancing in her head when she asked to be traded from the Connecticut Sun. She would come home, she would get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and she would finally -- finally -- bring home the WNBA championship the Liberty have been yearning for since their inception. The same championship Charles has been yearning for since she was drafted in 2010.

It didn't happen. And by many accounts, 2014 was a disastrous season for the Liberty, which finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs. This is what makes this so important.

Charles, a native New Yorker and graduate of Christ the King, comes into Friday night's Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Mystics as a woman with tauntingly unfinished business. Never mind that the team has lost point guard Brittany Boyd to injury. Never mind that the Mystics (18-16) won the season series, 3-1. What matters now, Charles said at practice Thursday, is that the goal is close enough to grasp, and with the way the Liberty has dominated, that may be all the team needs.

"It's extremely huge," she said. "I'm looking forward to it, most importantly, because this is New York. This is the reason I wanted to come here, Epiphanny [Prince] and I, to bring the city a championship, and we look forward to the process of getting it. It's really exciting."

The Liberty (23-11) owns the overall No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage, but the best-of-three series against the stingy Mystics defense is cause for pause. True, the Liberty has a slightly better defense -- a league-leading average of 71.1 points allowed to the Mystics' 71.2 -- but Washington, led by crafty coach Mike Thibault, has given them trouble.

"The regular season doesn't matter," Prince said. "We start a new season starting [Friday night]. They're a great team, they're a physical team. We've got to keep them off the offensive glass, just limit their shots to one . . . They're a good team, so it should be a good game."

They'll need to neutralize Ivory Latta, who scored 20 points against the Liberty in the second matchup. The Liberty will also have two All-Stars to contend with in the frontcourt, bigs Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson.

Challenge accepted, said Charles, a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

"Before every huddle, we'd say, hey, this is a playoff game," she said. "We see it as, all those games in the regular season were quizzes and this is a big test. We're just going to go out there and give it our all."Notes & quotes: Bill Laimbeer was named Coach of the Year.

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