NEW YORK -- Even Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was impressed.
The New York Liberty shot a torrid 71 percent in the first half and contained the league's leading scorer, Chamique Holdsclaw, as they defeated the Washington Mystics 96-79 Saturday night before a crowd of 13,851 at Madison Square Garden.
"They had their way," said Summitt, who serves as a Mystics consultant. "They were shooting 75 percent for a long time. They double-teamed Chamique and limited her touches."
The Liberty return to the Garden on Sunday for Game 3, hoping to advance to their fourth WNBA Finals in the league's six-year history. The winner will play the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks, who swept the Utah Starzz with a 103-77 win in the Western Conference final Saturday.
Tari Phillips scored 15 of her 23 points in the first half and finished 11-for-13 from the field, scoring on driving layups and inside spin moves. Tamika Whitmore also had 23 points for the Liberty, who scored a franchise-high 96 points.
Vickie Johnson added 18 points, making all five of her 3-point shots. New York went 7-for-8 from behind the arc, and cooled off to a WNBA playoff record 66-percent shooting (35-for-53) on the night.
Holdsclaw had a quiet 14 points and just two rebounds, sitting out the final seven minutes with the game out of hand. She averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in the regular season.
"It's the first game in my life I've had one defensive rebound," Holdsclaw said. "We just have to throw this out the window and get ready for the next game."
The Liberty defense, which roughed up Indiana's rookie of the year Tamika Catchings in the first-round series, flattened Holdsclaw five minutes into the second half. She landed face down under the Mystics' basket as her teammates run upcourt. It was that kind of night for Holdsclaw, who finished 4-for-10 from the field.
Phillips then made an off-balance one-hander and Whitmore sank consecutive layups for a 66-47 cushion.
"It seems like we did everything right on the offensive end," Whitmore said.
New York outscored Washington 48-26 in the paint. Reserve Helen Luz led the Mystics with 16 points and Tonya Washington added 11.
"We threw the kitchen sink at them and nothing slowed down their offensive output," Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. "We played zone, pressed, went man-to-man. Once they got going, their confidence went through the roof."
Ahead 84-59 with seven minutes left, New York coach Richie Abubato went to his bench.
"It's easy when you make every basket," Adubato said. "We did come out with tremendous passion and determination."
New York opened a 36-21 lead with seven minutes left in the first half on consecutive 3-pointers by Johnson. Holdsclaw's jumper cut the lead to 10 points, but Phillips' layup, two free throws by Whitmore and another 3-pointer by Johnson extended the Liberty cushion to 46-31.
Luz scored the Mystics' final eight points - including two 3-pointers - to cut the deficit to 50-39 at halftime.
Phillips went 7-for-8 in the first half and Holdsclaw led the Mystics with nine first-half points.
On Thursday, the Liberty shot 54 percent but lost 79-74 in Game 1 at the MCI Center.
The difference in the two games was clear to Holdsclaw.
"Phillips missed two shots and they outrebounded us by 11," Holdsclaw said. "We've got to play better defense and rebound the ball."
A victory Sunday would make the Liberty the first team in WNBA history to win two series in the same postseason after losing the openers.