The Washington Mystics maintained their spell over the New York Liberty, who now have to win on the road to keep their season alive.
WNBA Coach of the Year Bill Laimbeer doesn’t believe that will be a problem.
The Liberty had the league’s best road record during the regular season, and they’ll need that advantage as they look to avoid elimination by the Mystics in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday.
Washington has beaten New York in four of five meetings after winning Game 1 by an 86-83 score in double overtime Friday. The free-throw line was key, with the Mystics making 19 of 24 and the Liberty 16 of 26.
"Missed free throws – that was one of our biggest downfalls," Laimbeer said. "We gave away too many opportunities in regulation and overtime. We missed some free throws and did not make big shots.”
New York, 11-6 on the road, will be trying to force a decisive Game 3 on Tuesday.
”Nothing’s easy in this league,” Laimbeer said. ”It’s the way it is. We’re the best road team in this league and we’ll step up like we have in the past.”
Washington is hopeful that starting center Stefanie Dolson will be available after leaving with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter after hurting her ankle. Dolson scored 13 points.
”Stef just turned her ankle, she’ll be fine for Sunday,” coach Mike Thibault said. ”She’ll get treatment (Saturday) and we’ll see how it goes.”
Ivory Latta scored 15 points and Emma Meesseman and Tayler Hill each added 13 for fourth-seeded Washington, the only visiting team to win a series opener. Kara Lawson also provided a boost by returning from an eight-game absence due to a back injury and contributing eight points off the bench.
”Whichever team won was going to be excited, whichever team lost would be heartbroken,” Thibault said. ”It was a great basketball game. That’s how you win playoff games, make your free throws and rebound.”
Epiphanny Prince led New York with 26 points and Tina Charles added 22 and eight rebounds for the Liberty, who won a franchise-record 23 regular-season games. They have lost a season-high three straight.
"We have great veterans, great leadership, a lot of positive people so I believe we should be fine," Charles said.