Liberty's Carson earns rave reviews

Besides playing tough defense, Essence Carson burned Tamika Catchings and Indy for 17 points. Alan Maglaque/US Presswire

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For about an hour a day during the postseason, Essence Carson, reserve guard for the New York Liberty, turns into a film critic.

The third-year pro studies tape of Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, a five-time All-Star and the biggest road block standing between the Liberty and the Eastern Conference finals.

"I just [watch film] to try to break down the player," Carson said. "Sometimes it helps."

It certainly did on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Carson helped limit Catchings to just six points on 1-of-6 shooting in the second half of the Liberty's 85-73 win over Indiana in Game 1 of their playoff series. The Fever forward finished with 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting.

"There was no bigger time for her to do that than [Thursday] night," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said of Carson, who came off the bench to score a season-high 17 points in the opening game of the best-of-three series. "It's a real tribute to her and how she handled the spotlight."

Carson had started 64 of 68 games in her first two years with the Liberty. But she was relegated to the bench this season after New York landed combo guard Cappie Pondexter in a preseason trade and selected former Sacramento guard Nicole Powell in the dispersal draft. Carson was buried deeper on the bench when rookie Kalana Greene impressed the Liberty coaching staff with a strong training camp.

"I just took as it came and continued to be positive," said Carson, who averaged a career-low 3.7 points and 9.6 minutes per game during the 2010 regular season. "I knew that one day my number would be called upon. No matter when it is, I had to be ready."

The former Rutgers standout's shutdown performance against Catchings in Game 1 was no fluke. Carson also helped limit Catchings to just six second-half points in the Liberty's 78-57 home win over the Fever on Aug. 17.

Carson kept Catchings off rhythm in Game 1 by standing her ground as Catchings attempted to create space for her jump shot with a bullying forearm. Carson also did all she could to keep the ball out of Catchings' hands.

"She's an aggressive player," Carson said. "A lot of times aggressive players don't like to play against aggressive defenders."

Carson's star turn on Thursday night won't propel her into the starting lineup for Sunday's Game 2 in Indy. Donovan said she will start Powell and use Carson off the bench.

Which is fine with Carson. She says she's content to help out on Catchings when she can. As long as she has time to watch some film on her.

"I watch it to try to find out [opponents'] weaknesses and try to make them do what they're not too great at," Carson said. "It can only help."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.