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.
Mitchell hurt. Starting point guard Leilani Mitchell tweaked her back during practice on Tuesday and sat out the final 20 minutes stretching and icing her back on the sideline. Mitchell, winner of the WNBA's Most Improved Player award, is just 1-for-7 with three points, five assists and five turnovers in 53:37 played over two games.
After practice, Donovan said it was too soon to comment on the severity of the injury.
Greene day. Reserve guard Kalana Greene was named to the WNBA's All-Rookie team. Greene averaged 4.5 points off the bench this season. Greene, drafted 13th overall by the Liberty, hasn't seen the floor much in the postseason with the emergence of Essence Carson. But Donovan said she was instrumental in the Liberty's franchise-record ten-game winning streak in the second half of the season. She scored a career-high 17 points in the Liberty's 77-72 win over San Antonio on July 27.
"There's no question she's one of the rookies that impacted the league this year," Donovan said. "The kid came in and really gave us a lift when Essence was struggling and (she) was a big part of why we had that run."
Hello, Atlanta? If the Liberty win on Wednesday, they will earn a chance to play the fourth-seeded Atlanta Dream in the Conference Final. If they can prevail in Game 3, the Liberty will host Game 1 of the Conference Final on Sunday night. Game 2 is scheduled for Atlanta on Tuesday and Game 3, if necessary, would be at the Garden on Thursday.
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.