WNBA: Tina Charles, Liberty beat Mystics, 79-74, to reach East finals

WNBA : Tina Charles, Liberty beat Mystics, 79-74, to reach East finals

The top-seeded Liberty defeated the Washington Mystics, 79-74, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden to advance to their first conference final since 2010. The Liberty takes on the Indiana Fever in Game 1 Wednesday.

The first two quarters were night and day, with the Mystics rushing out to a 25-15 lead. Then New York tightened up the defense and some bad offensive habits returned for the Mystics.

The ‘Stics were determind to not to let the Liberty have a repeat of Sunday’s hot third quarter, however, and they clawed their way back. The fourth quarter featured five lead changes.

Epiphanny Prince (who had been having a terrible game thus far) corralled an errant pass from Tina Charles and hit a fadeaway jumper, and the Mystics found themselves down 74-77 with 20 seconds to go. Kiah Stokes switched on to Ivory Latta, and Latta tried to take her one-on-one. Stokes blocked Latta’s three, and Sugar Rogers sealed the deal for New York with a pair of free throws.

The Mystics have won a playoff series just once since the start of the franchise. While we’ve praised the Mystics’ ability to play better than the sum of their parts this season, the New York defense stifled them in the final minutes of this game, leading to turnovers and desperation shots when the Mystics badly needed a bucket to stay in the game.

Top performers for the Mystics were Tierra Ruffin-Pratt with 17 points, four assists and four steals, and Ivory Latta with 18 points and 7 assists.

Should we consider the season a failure? There is an argument to be made that the current squad is close to its ceiling. But on the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t read too much into a game this close.