Commentary

Healthy McCarville? Dream come true

Hobbled Liberty forward is game-time decision for East finals opener vs. Atlanta

Updated: September 5, 2010, 11:57 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Janel McCarville spent most of Saturday night with her left ankle iced and her fingers crossed.

The New York Liberty forward is holding out hope that the swelling in her ankle subsides by around 5 p.m. Sunday, in time for her to suit up for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Dream.

"It's a game-time decision," McCarville said Saturday afternoon. "I'll test it out before tip-off."

Liberty coach Anne Donovan wasn't as optimistic, all but ruling out McCarville for Game 1, which tips off at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

"She's still day to day and not anticipated to play on Sunday. I'd love to say differently," Donovan said on Saturday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeJanel McCarville
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Liberty could use help on the boards from Janel McCarville (left).

McCarville tweaked her ankle Wednesday morning during a five-on-five drill in the team's shootaround, hours before the Liberty's 77-74 win over Indiana in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.

She said on Saturday that she doesn't feel any pain in the ankle, but her lateral movement is still limited.

The Liberty -- reserve center Kia Vaughn, in particular -- showed that they were equipped to handle the loss of McCarville in Game 3 against Indiana. Vaughn scored 13 points off the bench -- many of them pivotal -- on Wednesday night against the Fever.

But McCarville's absence could have a greater effect against the Dream, whose offense thrives on transition opportunities.

The fourth-seeded Dream averaged 98 points in two playoff games against the top-seeded Mystics and were second in the league in scoring behind the Phoenix Mercury in the regular season.

To counter Atlanta's transition game, Donovan will send one or two Liberty players back on defense as soon as the Dream release a shot.

The coach acknowledges that the defensive tactic leaves the Liberty vulnerable on the boards, where McCarville's absence will be felt most. McCarville averaged 9.5 rebounds in two playoff games against Indiana after pulling down a career-high 5.9 per game in the regular season.

Atlanta is the top rebounding team in the WNBA, averaging 43 per game and 9.5 more than its opponents, which is also the largest rebound differential in the league.

McCarville, a six-year veteran in her fourth season with the Liberty, also helps initiate New York's offense by finding open shooters on the perimeter when she receives the ball in the paint.

"There's a lot about her game that's not necessarily on the stat sheet that the Liberty will miss," Donovan said.

That is, unless McCarville can make the women's hoops equivalent of a Willis Reed-style comeback for Sunday night's game.

"The movement [of the ankle], keeping it warm enough, getting it loose; things like that will all play a factor in whether I play," McCarville said. "It's a game-time decision, so we'll see."

POST-PRACTICE BUZZ

Angel could be devilishly tough to stop: Angel McCoughtry averaged 24.5 points in the Dream's two-game sweep of the top-seeded Mystics, so containing McCoughtry will be a top priority for the Liberty. Donovan said McCoughtry flashed an effective long-range jump shot in the Washington series, something the Liberty will attempt to contain.

"Not only was she taking the three but she made it look good," Donovan said. "You generally guard her to put the ball on the floor, but now you have to guard both."

McCoughtry was 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line in the conference semifinal. She shot 26 percent from behind the arc in the regular season.

Going Greene? Rookie guard Kalana Greene played just nine minutes and scored one point in the Indiana series. Look for her minutes to increase against Atlanta. Donovan said that the up-tempo nature expected in the conference finals suites Greene's game well.

"The physicality of the Indiana series, it wasn't a great matchup for her. But the athleticism and the quickness of Atlanta makes this a good opportunity for her," the coach said.

Greene averaged 4.5 points per game in the regular season and was named to the WNBA's All-Rookie team. Her minutes against Indiana were limited in part due to the emergence of reserve guard Essence Carson.

Mitchell on the mend: Leilani Mitchell's injured lower back is getting better. Donovan said Saturday that the Liberty's starting point guard is "getting better every day. She's healthier than she was in Game 3 so that's good news for us."

It's unclear when Mitchell first hurt her back. She sat out the final 20 minutes of Tuesday's practice with a bag of ice taped to her lower back. She also worked on stretching her lower torso with a team trainer.

Mitchell, voted the league's most improved player last week, scored seven points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out nine assists in three playoff games against the Fever.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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