UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Tina Charles collected her first WNBA MVP award, then showed why she deserved the honor.
Charles had 17 points and four blocks to power the Connecticut Sun to a 65-60 victory over the New York Liberty in their playoff opener on Thursday night."The day is going great," the third-year center said. "I got a (personal) achievement, and we got the first playoff win. Now we have to build on that."Game 2 of the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal series is at the Prudential Center in Newark at 7 p.m. Saturday.
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It was the Sun's first playoff win since they beat the Liberty 73-70 on Sept. 20, 2008."I'm happy with the win," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "I'm happy with the effort. We need to play a lot better."Asjha Jones had 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Connecticut (26-9), which is the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Kara Lawson added eight points, six rebounds and five assists.Cappie Pondexter had 14 points, six assists and four steals for the Liberty (15-20). Plenette Pierson finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.The Sun and Liberty were tied at 45 with over a minute left in the third quarter when Connecticut pulled away with a 12-0 run. It held New York scoreless for a 6 1/2-minute stretch that began late in the third quarter and extended into the fourth.Renee Montgomery made two free throws early in the fourth quarter, then fed Mistie Mims for a layup. Jones continued Connecticut's run with a pull-up jumper.A steal and layup by Tan White made it 57-45, prompting a timeout by Liberty coach John Whisenant with 7:57 remaining."Once we didn't turn it over and got stops, we were able to get out on the break," Jones said. "Tan and Mistie did a great job coming off the bench."Mistie is going to play hard inside, and she does a great job moving without the ball and freeing up people."New York shot 23 percent (9 of 39) in the second half."It was just a frustrating night offensively for us," Pondexter said. "If you're on a team's home court and expect to win, you've got to shoot better."New York closed to 59-52 with over five minutes left in the game, but Allison Hightower responded with a spinning jumper and White scored to extend the lead to 11.New York trailed by seven when Nicole Powell opened the second half with a 3-pointer, her third of the game, to trim the deficit to four. Braxton and Pierson made consecutive layups to tie it at 41 with over seven minutes left in the third.Charles made eight of 17 shots after she received her MVP award before the game. Charles, who averaged 18 points and a WNBA-best 10.5 rebounds, received 25 first-place votes and 345 points overall from a panel of 41 sports writers and broadcasters, the league said. Los Angeles forward Candace Parker was second with seven first-place votes and 253 points.Two Sun guards also were recognized by the league. Montgomery took home the WNBA's Sixth Woman Of the Year honor after averaging 11.6 points and Lawson received the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award.