Sugar Rodgers and Isaiah Thomas (248069)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

“What happened?” That was the inevitable question after the New York Liberty was defeated by the Washington Mystics 82‑68 Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Answer: Kristi Toliver. The 5-foot-7, 30-year-old guard in the ninth year of her WNBA career sunk a playoff record nine three-point shots, scored 32 points total and brought the Liberty’s season to an end.

“That was my biggest fear going into this game, Toliver making the ungodly shots that she does every now and then,” said Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer. “She played great. She made all the big shots. Any opening that she had, she released it quickly before we could get a hand on the ball, and they went in.”

Laimbeer noted that the Mystics dominated the rebounding and the Liberty didn’t get it done. In addition to Toliver’s prolific scoring, Elena Delle Donne had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Liberty was at a bit of disadvantage. The team’s leader, Tina Charles, was dealing with back pain all week, although she refused to use that as an excuse. Shavonte Zellous suffered a lower back injury early in the game and played sparingly in the second half.

In 2016, the WNBA instituted a new playoff format. The first two rounds feature one-and-done games, and the Liberty, which got first-round byes in 2016 and ’17, is now zero for two with this format.

“Any coach will tell you they would prefer not to be a one-and-done because anything can happen, but at the same time you’ve still got to win the basketball game. We didn’t do that. They played better than us today,” said Laimbeer.

“You don’t get lucky around this time; you have to want it,” said Charles. “Kristi Toliver happened.”

What can be done differently going forward?

“I can’t even focus on next year right now,” said Charles. “I’m still taking everything in.”

She added, “A lot of things played a role in the loss tonight. I don’t blame anything as to why we’re here—especially I’m not going to blame my guys. They played hard. I trust them.”

The semifinal round of the WNBA playoffs kicked off Tuesday night with the Phoenix Mercury taking on the defending champions Los Angeles Sparks and the Mystics playing the Minnesota Lynx. The best-of-five series continues tonight.