Commentary

Paint battle will settle Game 3

Fever's formidable front line provides tough task for Liberty in deciding game

Updated: September 1, 2010, 7:44 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

GREENBURGH, NY -- At first glance, the Indiana Fever's front line is intimidating. There's 6-foot-2, 215-pound power forward Ebony Hoffman; 6-4, 200-pound center Tammy Sutton-Brown; and 6-5, 215-pound backup center Jessica Davenport. Add to the mix WNBA defensive player of the year Tamika Catchings, who plays much bigger than her listed height of 6-1, and it's easy to see why one of the New York Liberty's chief concerns heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis is to keep the Fever off the boards.

The force and fervor of the Fever's front line came at the Liberty in waves in Game 2 on Sunday as the Fever largely controlled the paint, outrebounding New York by six en route to their 75-67 series-tying win. Six may seem like an insignificant number, but it made a big difference for the Fever when you consider the Liberty outrebounded Indiana by 14 in a 12-point Game 1 win.

"The battle of the boards is going to be like the Battle of the Bulge; it's going to be enormous for us," said Liberty center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who grabbed five rebounds and scored two points on 1-of-9 shooting in Game 2. "Whichever team controls the backboard controls the game, that's clear. ... We have to make sure what were supposed to do -- that's boxing out and getting the rebounds."

In the past four Liberty-Fever games, the team that won the rebounding battle came out on top. McWilliams-Franklin and power forward Janel McCarville will be counted on to control the paint and keep the Fever's front line off of the offensive glass.

In addition to holding their own underneath the basket, the Liberty's post players must find open space on the offensive end to help create open shots for the perimeter players. Coach Anne Donovan said the team was too bunched on offense in Game 2, which hurt its ability to get the ball inside and subsequently find open looks for its outside shooters.

The second-seeded Liberty hit just 4-of-12 shots from behind the 3-point arc on Sunday night, compared to 12-of-21 in its Game 1 win.

"Better spacing creates open looks," Donovan said. "We've got a smart, veteran group and they understand how to fix that."

So while all eyes will undoubtedly be on Cappie Pondexter and Tamika Catchings in the decisive Game 3 at the Garden, post play on both ends of the floor will be crucial.

Even Pondexter knows that.

"[Rebounding] determined a win and a loss both games," Pondexter said after practice on Tuesday. "At this point in the season, rebounding wins you championships."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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