In the East finals, it all comes down to decisive Game 3

One of the most intriguing fulcrums of drama is a sudden power shift between protagonists. In the unscripted drama of sports, that packs even more of a punch. It's not orchestrated, so no one knows it's going to happen until it does.

And it did Sunday afternoon on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse "stage" as Indiana rallied to beat New York 70-64 and extend the Eastern Conference finals to a deciding third game Tuesday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).

Either New York will go to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002 or Indiana will make its third trip in the past seven years. Western Conference champion Minnesota, which had a controversial-ending matinee potboiler Sunday, awaits the winner.

Indiana's victory Sunday was a game that seemed all New York's -- until it wasn't. Fever guard Shavonte Zellous made a 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer, shaving the Liberty's lead to 11. But as the teams began the last quarter, New York still seemed firmly in charge.

A room a little ways down from the Liberty's locker room was prepared -- as per protocol -- for a postgame trophy presentation should New York secure the East title.

But then to start the final period, the Liberty missed a few shots and the Fever made a few. The Fever crowd, which to their credit kept responding to every sign of optimism, began to roar.

The tables did indeed turn, and the Fever grabbed the upper hand. Will that now switch back to the Liberty, since they'll be playing on their home turf at Madison Square Garden?

"It's really important because our crowd has been our sixth man all year," New York guard Epiphanny Prince said. "We play well at home; it's a different energy level."

However, the Liberty already lost one game at home in the playoffs: the opener of the East semifinals in double overtime to Washington. And while the Fever players are well aware of the Garden's rejuvenating powers for the Liberty, they hope they can usurp some of that for themselves.

"We don't need any extra motivation; we have a core group that knows what it takes," said Zellous, who was a key figure in the Fever's 2012 run to the WNBA championship. "But we know how hard it's going to be playing in that arena; the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. It's the world's most famous arena. We know we're going to make some adjustments, and they will, too.

"It's all going to come down to, one, rebounding. Two, players making plays. And, three, we know when we turn the ball over and allow them to score, it hurts us."

The Liberty won the battle on the boards by a slim margin, 27-25, in the first game, but it was definitely a landslide to New York in terms of who made big plays in that 84-67 victory.

In Game 2, the teams were even at 30 rebounds apiece, but the Fever -- led by Tamika Catchings with 25 points -- got the big plays at crucial times. Marissa Coleman's two fourth-quarter treys were crucial. And with 21.8 seconds left and the Fever up by one, guard Shenise Johnson ripped what would have been an offensive rebound away from Liberty center Kiah Stokes after a Prince miss.

Afterward, Stokes -- who had 21 points in the first game but none in the second -- essentially called herself out, a mature thing for a rookie to do. She did have 11 rebounds Sunday ,but just three of them were on the offensive side and didn't lead to putbacks.

"I had my hands on a lot of rebounds, and I just couldn't finish the play off," Stokes said. "Definitely, it's just not being tough with the ball. They turned their intensity up, and I didn't match it today. And I need to, going forward. My role offensively is to get O-boards and finish, and I didn't get anything that way.

"We shouldn't have let this game slip away, but we're going to come home on Tuesday and try to just take care of business."

To do that, though, the Liberty will need to play a lot like they did in the series opener.

"I think in the first game, we got a lot of shots from our plays," Prince said. "[Sunday], the shot clock was running down, and instead of attacking, we settled for long jumpers. When you do that, it's hard to get offensive rebounds.

"Now we have one game to get it done. We can't beat ourselves down or feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to go out there and just play with a sense of urgency. Execute and defend."

The message is pretty much the same for the Fever. In neither game have they been able to shut down Liberty star Tina Charles, as she had a combined 43 points and 19 rebounds. But New York will need more than Charles to win, and that's what the Fever will try to stop.

"We pride ourselves on our communication and helping each other on defense," Coleman said. "We talk about it sometimes, that we're playing selfishly, but we're not a selfish team. It's just that we're all so concerned about not letting our man score that we're not helping our teammate.

"I think in the second half, we got back to how we play defense. We have some great individual defensive players in Briann [January] and Catch. But when we do it as a team, that's when we're at our best."

Considering all that is on the line, we might see the best of both the Liberty and the Fever on Tuesday. And that would be a fitting end to this series, no matter who wins.

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