Nothing fires up the Liberty more than being doubted and dissed by their opponents, so alongside the frantic sketches of new plays posted on locker-room walls before the playoff finals on Monday were cocky quotes from the Charlotte Sting, which had forced the third game in the best-of-three series with their 62-53 mugging of New York on Sunday. But there was an unspoken slogan driving the Liberty as they lined up for their sixth home-court contest in which their lives were on the line: Been there, done that. Indeed, they'd won all five of the previous nail-biters.
But rather than boost confidence and send the Liberty to a fourth try at the championships, the mind-set made for a sort of ho-hum lassitudeor maybe it was just the unstoppable power of quick-handed point guard Dawn Staley and opportunity-machine Andrea Stinson. Charlotte upset New York 48-44, coming back from a season that started out 1-10. "Every game after that was a must-win for us," said Staley, who shot 66 percent in the Sting's crucial win Sunday.
During the series, the Liberty had to rely almost entirely on their starters. The three blonds from the bench who gave the squad some much-needed depth this seasonSue Wicks, Andrea Nagy, and Becky Hammonwere less of a combination weapon in the high-stakes stress of the playoffs.
And the Liberty spent much of the playoffs seriously behind. More than just behind, in fact: with their backs against the wall. "This is do or die," said swaggering point guard Teresa Weatherspoon before Monday's game.
Isn't that just how they like it? Sweet-shooting Crystal Robinson didn't appreciate the question. "You think we want to purposely lose and put ourselves in a situation that's do or die?" she asked indignantly after Sunday's loss, and then stalked away. It's exactly that righteous anger that the Liberty needed more of on Mondayand that will no doubt fester during the off-season.