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Liberty host Mystics in second-round matchup

New York has played in the WNBA Finals four times, yet the Liberty still do not have a title.

On Sunday, the Liberty take the first step this postseason with the hopes of raising a championship flag when they host the Washington Mystics in a second-round, single-elimination game at Madison Square Garden.

The winner advances to a best-of-five series against the Minnesota Lynx with Game 1 at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The Mystics advanced out of the first-round by beating the Dallas Wings 86-76 on Wednesday. Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman both compiled double-doubles in the victory.

Delle Donne, in only her sixth game back after suffering a thumb injury, recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds while Meesseman notched 16 points and 10 boards.

The Mystics twice had leads of 13 points against Dallas, but still had to hang on for the win in what turned out to be a physical battle. Washington dominated the glass and kept its composure when the game got chippy.

To beat the Liberty, the Mystics will have to continue to hit the boards and play with an edge, which is easier said than done.

"We got so many big offensive rebounds and I think that's a huge growth thing with our team," Washington head coach Mike Thibault told reporters after the game. "That's a sign that we embraced how the game was being played."

The Mystics will be challenged to repeat their dominance on the boards. The Liberty led the league in rebounds, averaging 38.7 a game.

And for the third straight season, New York led the WNBA in defensive field goal percentage, holding teams to 40.8 percent from the field for the year.

The Liberty won two of three during the regular season and both games at The Garden against the Mystics. The Liberty also have had a week off since closing out their regular season with a win against Dallas.

"We were fortunate to win that," New York head coach Bill Laimbeer said after his team made numerous errors down the stretch.

"We didn't play well," he added. "We played hard. We made some bad mental decisions. But we got our taste of mental blunders out of the way right now. If we do that in the playoffs we will lose."

The Liberty haven't lost since early August and have reeled off 10 straight wins with contributions from all facets of the team.

"We've been in all types of situations all season long," Tina Charles said. "These 10 wins, all of them have been different, but everyone has had an imprint on each game."

Among the players singled out by Charles for such contributions were Shavonte Zellous, Kia Vaughn and Epiphanny Prince.

Sunday's key matchup pits MVP candidate Charles against Delle Donne. Charles averaged just 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in the three meetings against the Mystics, down from her season averages of 19.7 and 9.4 rebounds.

Charles' might have a stronger supporting cast with Prince, who was named Comeback Plyer of the Year, and Sugar Rodgers named Sixth Woman of the Year.

Prince averages 12.0 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals.

Rodgers, who was at the center of a midseason lineup change, is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, knocking down 63 attempts, which ranks sixth best in the WNBA.

"We have a solid foundation. We have won 10 in a row," Laimbeer said. "Any team is going to be a tough out in the playoffs. It doesn't matter how you play, it's going to be a war."

Thibault concurred.

"In general, playoff games are more physical, more things are allowed to happen, and if you can fight through that and still keep your defensive presence about you, then that's great," Thibault said.

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