Pondexter points Liberty to East finals

NEW YORK -- Cappie Pondexter had the ball in her hands with 30 second to go in the fourth quarter of a tie game and the New York Liberty's season hanging in the balance.

In other words, exactly where Pondexter wanted to be.

"I live for moments like this as a basketball player," Pondexter said. "When I'm in the gym working out I think about moments like this to prepare myself."

The MVP candidate looked plenty prepared as she hit a floater from the right baseline to put the Liberty up two with 27.9 seconds to go against the Indiana Fever in the decisive Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Liberty hung on in the final seconds Wednesday night to wrap up a 77-74 win at the Garden and advance to the conference finals against the Atlanta Dream.

Moments like the one Pondexter experienced on Wednesday are part of the reason she demanded an offseason trade to New York.

"In my mind that's what it's all about," she said. "I just took it upon myself to take over and I love having the last shot."

The Liberty -- who will face the fourth-seeded Dream in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night at the Garden -- have won 10 straight at home. It's hard to believe this is the same club that was 5-7 and in last place in the East in late June.

Both the dramatic second-half turnaround in the season and the playoff series win over Indiana can be directly attributed to Pondexter. On Wednesday, she broke her own single-game postseason franchise scoring record with 30 points.

But the two-time WNBA champion -- from her days with Phoenix -- had plenty of help from two former Rutgers teammates in Game 3.

Kia Vaughn and Essence Carson -- both of whom played with Pondexter in Piscataway -- came up with monster nights coming from off the Liberty bench.

The Liberty fell behind by 59-52 early in the third quarter but, in just a 13-second span, Carson hit a 3-pointer and converted a layup following a Lelani Mitchell steal to pull the Liberty within two.

Vaughn -- a reserve who was forced to play major minutes in Game 3 when starter Janel McCarville hurt her left ankle in shootaround -- hit three crucial free throws early in the fourth to keep the Liberty within striking distance. She then converted a layup off of a Taj McWilliams-Franklin feed with 3:31 to go to close the Fever lead to 72-71.

Still, with the game hanging in the balance late in the fourth quarter, the ball went to Pondexter. The whole season -- all 3½ months and 35 games of it -- was up in the air. Coach Anne Donovan wasn't surprised her point guard came through.

"All-Star players step up. ... This is their time of year," Donovan said. "Marquee players and MVP players, this is their spotlight time, and Cappie did that again tonight."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.