The rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals — the series the Liberty lost to the Indiana Fever — didn’t seem as if it could come at a worse time.
The Liberty went into Friday night’s game against Indiana having lost three straight games, and its vaunted defense crumbled against the WNBA champion Lynx in a loss earlier in the week.
But if the Liberty was suffering from any hesitation or loss of confidence, it didn’t show at the Garden.
Led by Sugar Rodgers, who shot 5-for-8 from three-point range and scored 21 points, the Liberty downright victimized its old foe, tossing aside the Fever, 91-59.
Tina Charles had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Shavonte Zellous scored 13 off the bench. The defense held the Fever to 32.8-percent shooting.
“I think the focus was there from start to finish,” said Swin Cash (nine points). “Teams like Indiana are going to take a few different things away from you and we’re getting better — we’re not where we need to be yet — but we’re getting better at reading and realizing that Tina is going to be double- teamed every night and we’ve got to be able to make teams pay . . . That’s going to propel us to the next level of not just being a good team but being a great team.”
The Liberty managed to do something it hadn’t accomplished in last year’s showdown — taking a huge lead and never relenting.
After the most successful season in team history last year, the Liberty was ousted by the Fever in the best-of-three conference finals, a series memorably marked by the Liberty’s collapse in Game 2.
After winning Game 1, the Liberty squandered an 18-point second-quarter lead in Game 2 and never quite recovered — something, Charles said before this season, she thinks about often.
Brittany Boyd’s layup with three minutes left in the first quarter Friday night put the Liberty ahead for good at 17-16. An 11-0 run to end the second quarter produced a 42-29 lead at the break.
“We’re starting to look at options to open the floor up a little bit more, but we’re not structured that way,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We’re looking to get more open looks . . . When Sugar makes shots like that, it takes some pressure off of Tina.”