- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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New York (18-16), East No. 3
WHAT'S WORKING: Indiana's defense gets the job done. The Fever rank first in steals (9.9 per game), second in scoring defense (62.7 points allowed per game) and third in offensive rebounding (10.0). The Fever dominate the boards, preventing their foes from running and paving the way for almost 60 shots a game.
In fact, those added possessions make it all about quantity in Indiana. The Fever have attempted 160 more field-goal attempts, 101 more 3-pointers, made 102 more steals and grabbed 62 more offensive rebounds than their opponents, with 81 fewer turnovers.
Although only Tamika Catchings (above) and Kelly Miller average double digits scoring, notching 14.7 and 10.2 points, respectively, Indiana has incredible depth, going nine or 10 players deep. And though Catchings hasn't done well against New York this season (more about that below), she remains one of the league's top players, ranking eighth in scoring, third in rebounding and first in steals.
WHAT'S WORKING: New York ranks sixth in scoring (68.1 points per game), third in field-goal percentage (44.5), sixth in 3-point accuracy (34.4) and first at the foul line (81.9 percent shooting). Three starters average double-digit scoring -- Becky Hammon (above) leads the way at 13.9 points -- and New York turns over the ball just 13.6 times a game.
The 3-pointer has been the Liberty's bread and butter all season -- they've attempted 605 treys this year, or almost 18 per game. Hammon has hit 65, which ranks second in the league, though her 178 attempts rank second, too. More than half of her field-goal attempts, in fact, are 3-pointers, and she's the league's No. 1 free-throw shooter, hitting 90 percent. No one has been able to stop Hammon, especially in the last month.
Losing 6-foot-4 center Ann Wauters to a hand injury -- coach Pat Coyle said Wauters might not even be ready if New York were to reach the WNBA Finals -- completely changes the team's makeup. But reserve Cathrine Kraayeveld has increased her productivity, as has second-year player Shameka Christon, who is now starting at forward.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Indiana set a franchise record for wins this season, but the team's stats are deceiving. While the Fever did attempt 160 more shots than their foes this season, they're last in field-goal percentage (40.0 percent) and 10th in 3-point accuracy (32.1). Only the Sting and Silver Stars, the two worst teams in the league, averaged fewer points per game than the Fever (63.8).
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The Liberty rank ninth in rebounding. And their inside game obviously took a hit with the loss of Wauters, an All-Star this season and a candidate for the league's Most Improved Player award. Elena Baranova, who had 18 rebounds against the Sun on Aug. 20, is now starting at center, though she might not be 100 percent after suffering a sprained right ankle Thursday. That could be costly; New York is balanced offensively, but really lacks depth, going just six players deep.
X-FACTOR: The defense needs to deliver. Specifically, the Fever must make the Liberty a 2-point shooting team. Indiana will likely outrebound New York, but it's hard to keep pace when your opponent is hitting 3-pointers. The Fever must aggressively run at New York's perimeter players, force them to put the ball on the floor and take the dribble into their shot, or especially in Hammon's case, pass rather than shoot. Against Hammon, the Fever must keep her from getting her feet set and prevent her from getting open looks off screens, which she's so good at using.
Lastly, with New York missing Ann Wauters, expect Kelly Schumacher and Natalie Williams, who is really playing well, to take advantage of her absence inside. Look for Indiana to create points off its defense, getting high-percentage layups off steals and offensive rebounds.
X-FACTOR: They've lived and died by the 3-pointer all season, and the Liberty need to keep spreading the floor and stroking it from downtown. Every possession will count, especially because New York doesn't run but plays half-court basketball, so keeping turnovers low is vital.
Baranova prefers to face the basket and roam the perimeter, but she needs to dig down on the low block. New York is overmatched in the post but must find a way to rebound with Indiana. Even the guards must look to box out.
And, of course, the Liberty must look to contain Tamika Catchings. Expect New York to give several different looks defensively, switching defenses often and using both man-on-man and zone.
Indiana won the season series 3-1, including an eight-point victory May 26 at Madison Square Garden and a three-point win -- on Kelly Miller's three-point play with nine-tenths of a second remaining -- at home June 10. The Liberty's lone victory, a 14-point rout, came July 31 at home.
Before the Fever's 75-50 rout in Saturday's regular-season finale, neither team had scored more than 67 points in any of their matchups, and Catchings averaged just eight points and shot only 29 percent -- including a 1-for-12 night in their second meeting -- in the series. The bad news for the Liberty, though, is that Wauters led them or at least tied for the team high in scoring in the first three contests, averaging 19.3 points on 21-of-33 shooting (63 percent) in the series.
Indiana has won nine of its last 12 games against the Liberty, and it's no coincidence that in each of this season's wins, the Fever outrebounded New York. Indiana also got quality points off the bench in the first two wins: 23 in the May victory and 17 in the June win.
In New York's lone win, the Liberty managed to grab two more rebounds than the Fever, who attempted 62 shots but were just 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) on 3-pointers and 37.1 percent from the field. Wauters scored 24 of New York's 67 points (36 percent) as four New York starters reached double figures.
BOTTOM LINE: Shutting down Hammon -- who is so effective because she changes her speed and direction at just the right moment -- is the key for Indiana, and Tully Bevilaqua, Kelly Miller and Tan White will all get a shot.
If the Fever's defense is as good as it has been, and they can limit New York's 3-point attempts, Indiana will win, especially with homecourt advantage. If the Liberty continue to knock down the treys, the games will go down to the wire.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.