NEW YORK (AP) With New York, Indiana and Los Angeles on the brink of elimination, their stars all stepped up to help force decisive third games.
Now the WNBA will have three Game 3s in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Since the league expanded to eight teams in the postseason in 2000, one of the No. 1 seeds has always advanced past the opening round which bodes well for New York and Minnesota. Both top seeds will host elimination games Tuesday night.
Indiana will visit Chicago on Monday night. Tamika Catchings set the tone in Indiana's seven-point victory over Chicago on Saturday night that forced the third game.
''The first game we were so tense, like we wanted win the game so bad and everybody individually wanted to win it and down the stretch we just kind of fell apart a little bit,'' said Catchings, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. ''But I thought tonight we just had fun. It looked like everybody was just loose and looked like everybody was just focused, we were energized. We knew what this game meant, but at the same time it was like let's have fun tonight.''
Indiana has done a great job shutting down league MVP Elena Delle Donne in the first two games as she's averaged just 12.5 points. The Sky will need their star to step up Monday if they hope to advance.
Los Angeles coach Brian Agler watched the Fever's victory and noted to his team how well Catchings played.
''The thing that jumped out to me about that game was that Tamika wasn't going to let them lose,'' Agler said after his team beat Minnesota on Sunday. ''There are players out there who feel like they are worthy. And worthy doesn't mean it's going to be given to you. But you think you deserve it, so you want to go out and prove it.''
Candace Parker did just that for the Sparks, taking over Game 2 against the Lynx. She finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the Sparks to the win - their first in the playoffs in two years. The Sparks almost stole the first game against the Lynx and are confident heading back to Minnesota, where the Lynx are 17-2 all-time at home in the playoffs.
''Minnesota did what they were supposed to do,'' Parker said. ''Now we have to do what we are supposed to do. We tweaked some things but did not change everything. I know I saw on the film that I wasn't aggressive on the defensive end. I think that you have to control the things you have to control and that's what he stressed going into the game.''
Los Angeles might have to play the decisive game without Nneka Ogwumike, who left in the third quarter with a neck strain and did not return after she was struck in a tangle of players in the paint.
''She wasn't feeling very good, obviously,'' Agler said. ''I don't know what the status will be on Tuesday with her.''
Like Parker, Tina Charles raised her play on Sunday to help New York force a third game. The Liberty lost the opener in double overtime to Washington. New York wouldn't let Game 2 come down to the end, taking an early lead and never relinquishing it.
Charles had 17 of her 22 points in the third quarter, hitting shots from everywhere on the court, including a 3-pointer.
''I just wasn't satisfied the way I played the first half,'' said Charles, who only had five points in the first half. ''I thought I could have played smarter. Once I saw a couple of shots go in, I just got confidence and kept attacking. ... So I just kept attacking, I was in a zone and I played like it was my last. That's all I kept saying, `We want to see Tuesday.'''
Unlike Indiana and Los Angeles, the top-seeded Liberty will have home-court advantage in the third game. Over 10,000 fans turned out for New York's playoff opener on Friday night.
If New York does win Tuesday night, they'll have a quick turnaround as the Eastern Conference finals would begin Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
While those three series are all headed to a decisive game, Phoenix is resting after ending its series with Tulsa in two games.
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