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Erin Phillips' late jumper powers Fever past Liberty

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Fever guard Erin Phillips had never made a game-winning shot.

With All-Stars Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas on Phillips' team, the New York Liberty certainly didn't expect that to change Thursday night -- not in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Phillips made a clutch shot look routine, sinking a turnaround jumper with 1.5 seconds left to give the Fever a 74-72 win and the early edge in the best-of-three series.

"I really didn't think too much of it or put myself under pressure," said Phillips, who finished with six points and took six shots.

Catchings said the Fever planned for Phillips to take the shot all along.

"We just drew it up as the one-four-flat, and the one-four-flat just creates on the top," Catchings said. "I knew Erin was going to come down and put something up, and thank God it was right on the money. I figured she would either get the shot up or get fouled. She did a great job of hitting."

New York coach John Whisenant felt confident with Essence Carson guarding Phillips.

"Erin shot it over our best defensive player," he said. "Erin made a tough shot. Erin and Carson matched up one-on-one, I'd put my money on Carson."

New York's Cappie Pondexter missed a 3-pointer, with Phillips guarding her, as time expired.

"We just tried to get Cappie a shot," Whisenant said. "They had it defended, but they got mixed up and she still got the shot. Their play worked and ours didn't."

Douglas led the Fever with 25 points, Catchings scored 15, and Tammy Sutton-Brown added 14.

The Fever lost a 15-point lead in the second half but recovered. Indiana held on, in part, by making 20 of 23 free throws.

Pondexter led the Liberty with 18 points. She had scored at least 20 in six consecutive playoff games against the Fever, dating to her days with Phoenix in 2009.

"Everybody guarded Pondexter at one time or another," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "It's good to put fresh bodies on her. We defended Cappie by committee."

Nicole Powell scored 12 points and Kia Vaughn added 10 for New York, which will host Game 2 of the series on Saturday.

Pondexter promised a better performance on Saturday. A win by New York would force a decisive Game 3 back in Indiana on Monday night.

"Conseco is one of the toughest places to play," Pondexter said. "That we had the opportunity to win speaks volumes. I'm going to lead these guys to victory. I want to come back here."

The Fever led 71-70 in the fourth quarter when Phillips threw a bad pass that Carson intercepted. Indiana's Tangela Smith was called for a clear path foul, giving the Liberty two shots and the ball. Carson missed both free throws, and New York failed to score on the extra possession.

New York tied the game at 72 on a pair of free throws by Kia Vaughn with 50.7 seconds left. The Liberty then had a chance to take the lead on a fast break after an Indiana miss, but Catchings caught up with Pondexter and forced her into a turnover. That gave Phillips the chance to make her game-winning shot.

Indiana led 28-16 at the end of the first quarter as Catchings scored 10 points in the period.

Catchings was hit in the nose during the second quarter and briefly left the game. She returned, and the Fever led 44-34 at halftime.

New York cut Indiana's lead to 44-37 early in the third quarter before Douglas drained two 3-pointers during an 8-0 run that gave the Fever a 52-37 lead and forced New York to call timeout.

The Liberty rallied again, and a three-point play by Kara Braxton cut Indiana's lead to 52-48. New York cut the deficit to two before Indiana got a basket in close by Jessica Davenport and a fast-break layup by Douglas to push the lead to 60-54.

Indiana led 62-58 at the end the third quarter, then went cold in the fourth.

"I think we came out in the second half and we were anxious a little bit," Dunn said. "We didn't quite have the energy. They came out really focused and they were very aggressive and were attacking us."

Douglas wasn't surprised that New York made a run.

"We didn't expect that just because we're playing at home that we're going to win, even if we did have a 15-point lead," she said. "We have to be ready for the same type of atmosphere going to New York."