Published September 30. 2012 4:00AM
Newark, N.J. - Mike Thibault drew up the play for his No. 1 assassin, the player who remains calmer than a lagoon in those time-grows-desperate situations.
Like this, for instance: Sun down one, four minutes left Saturday night at the Prudential Center, opportunity to close out the first round of the WNBA playoffs so tantalizingly close.
And so with the timeout just about over, Renee Montgomery remembered thinking this:
"Here's the thing about K-Law," Montgomery said, referring to teammate Kara Lawson. "She had missed a couple. I thought, 'she's about to light them up.'"
Lawson made Montgomery prophetic, authoring one of the signature plays in Sun history. She made a 3-point field goal out of the timeout, withstanding Nicole Powell's hip check. The result: a foul on Powell and a four-point play, a three-point Sun lead and the catalyst for a game-closing 14-0 run.
And the Sun are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
They turned an early 16-point deficit into a distant hum, defeating the Liberty 75-62 to earn the franchise's first playoff series victory since 2006. They'll open the best-of-three conference finals at home Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena (8 p.m., ESPN2) against the winner of the Atlanta-Indiana series.
The series shifts to the Atlanta/Indiana winner Oct. 8 (8 p.m., ESPN2). The if-necessary game is Oct. 11 at Mohegan Sun Arena (8:30 p.m. ESPN2).
For now, though, some rest and revelry.
"Great players," Thibault said of Lawson, "aren't afraid when it's net-cutting time."
Lawson followed the four-point play with a 3 one possession later, the veritable dagger to New York's season.
"I had some looks in the second half and I was missing them. I don't usually miss those," Lawson said. "I kept telling them on the bench 'there's one coming.' I didn't know there were two coming."
Tina Charles led the Sun with 25 points and 14 rebounds and Asjha Jones had 20 points, 12 in the third period.
Thibault asked his team to be more attentive to rebounding before the game. They outrebounded the Liberty 44-28.
"Point of emphasis before the game from coach," Lawson said, "and Tina goes out and gets 14."
"If you really want to know why Tina is the MVP," Thibault said, "just watch the tape of the second half."
And to think there was a celebration at all, what with the Sun's inauspicious start. They were down 12-0 and missed their first 12 shots.
"I'm really proud of them," Jones said. "It would have been easy to fold early. Their defense was smothering. What a difference a year makes. We stayed with it."
Connecticut took its first lead at 44-43 with 5:12 left in the third period on Jones' bank shot. Essence Carson scored with 8.6 seconds in the third to give the Liberty a 52-50 lead after three.
Montgomery hit a 3 for Connecticut with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Sun a 55-52 lead. Plenette Pierson had just rallied New York from a five-point deficit, scoring with 4:20 left to give the Liberty a 62-61 lead, before Lawson's explosion.
"She's been great," Thibault said of Lawson. "This is an example of the kind of year she's had."