The new early-round single-elimination WNBA playoff format has the No. 8 seed Phoenix Mercury as a Cinderella team heading to New York to play the No. 3-seeded Liberty in a second-round game Saturday.
Phoenix (17-18) upset fifth-seeded Indiana 89-78 in Indianapolis in the first round Wednesday. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi scored 20 points and wing player DeWanna Bonner had 11 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter. Post player Brittney Griner added 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
After a re-seeding of the teams, Phoenix was paired with New York (21-13) at 7 p.m. ET. The winner will advance to play a best-of-five semifinal series against No. 2 seed Los Angeles beginning next Wednesday.
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New York is led by WNBA Most Valuable Player candidate Tina Charles, a post player who became just the third player in league history to be the leading scorer (21.5 points a game) and rebounder (9.9). She is the first member of the Liberty to lead the WNBA in either category.
Although the Mercury were the final team to clinch a playoff berth, they are more talented than the No. 3 vs. No. 8 matchup suggests with U.S. Olympians Griner and Taurasi on the roster. Charles was their teammate in the Rio Games. Her battle in the paint against Griner is worth watching in the elimination game.
Although Griner has won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award in each of the past two seasons, she has faced difficulty subduing Charles. The Liberty center has averaged 26.6 points and 11.0 rebounds in three games against Phoenix this season.
The Liberty, 10-7 at Madison Square Garden this season, closed the regular season on a three-game losing streak and went just 3-5 following the Olympic break. New York had more than a week off to prepare for this win-or-go-home game, which will be played at Madison Square Garden, where the Liberty went 10-7 this season.
New York won the regular-season series against Phoenix 2-1, going 1-1 in games at Madison Square Garden, including a 92-70 win in the most recent meeting on Sept. 3.