After a hard-fought regulation, the New York Liberty needed five more minutes to put their first-round series against the Washington Mystics to bed.
But the final minutes leading up to extra time was a thriller warranting a game of four quarters and some change.
After having the wheel for the first three quarters, the Liberty, at one point, looked to have the game slip off their fingers. Down only three points (59-56) at the end of the third, the Mystics scrapped their way up behind Natasha Cloud, who led the evening in scoring with a career-high 33 points.
The last five minutes of the fourth quarter were a screenwriter's dream. To begin, the Barclays Center crowd held their breath when the Liberty violated the shot clock. Both teams traded swings and misses to continue. With under two minutes remaining, the Liberty regained the lead off a Betnijah Laney three and a Jonquel Jones layup.
Around a minute later, Brittney Sykes hit a three to tie the game at 74. Sabrina Ionescu went to the foul line with 11.3 left on the clock and a chance to tie the game at 76. In an uncharacteristic turn of events, Ionescu went 0/2 from the stripe. Jones put her cape on and snagged the rebound before getting fouled and making up for Ionescu's misses. With a chance to win the game, Cloud's in-bounds pass ended up untouched into a turnover. On the other end, Courtney Vandersloot played an ill-executed pass to Breanna Stewart and opened the door for a failed game-winner for the Mystics.
The game was tied (at 76) for the third time in the fourth quarter and the buzzer sounded.
The overtime period unfolded to the tune of the New York fans cheering in unison. The Mystics faded after throwing haymakers for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the Liberty remained composed and secured the 90-85 victory, advancing in the WNBA Playoffs for the first time since 2015.
"I think we're battle-tested," Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said post-game. "We knew Washington was a really hard matchup but it was gonna prepare us as we progress through the playoffs. They really tested us tonight. We've faced everything now, what more can't we face? Whoever we play, we're just gonna come in and continue to execute to the best of our ability ahead of whatever's thrown at us."
After a slow scoring night in Game 1, Stewart led the team in scoring with 27 points and nine rebounds. Laney and Jones each scored 19 points, with the latter tallying 14 rebounds to complete the double-double. Ionescu, who became the target of Cloud's relentless defense all night, had 11 points and nine rebounds of her own.
"I don't need to score 30 every night as long as we win," Ionescu stated. "If I'm able to have their best defender out of the action and off the ball, allowing our other players to come off pick and rolls, I've done my job. At the end of the day, we won and that's all that's important to me and now it's on to the next."
The Liberty awaits the winner between Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx with the tie-breaking Game 3 scheduled for Wednesday at 8 P.M. ET. With home-court advantage, the Liberty will welcome their next opponents for Game 1 of the WNBA Playoffs semifinals on Sunday, Sept. 24, at Barclays Center.
"It's uncharted territory," Ionescu said. "I've never been to the semifinals before-- but it's basketball."