By JUSTIN EINHORN
STATS Senior Editor
(AP) -- League MVP Tina Charles just led the Connecticut Sun to their first playoff win in four years. Star Cappie Pondexter likely needs to answer with a bounce-back effort if the New York Liberty are to avoid a second straight first-round exit.
As Charles and the top-seeded Sun try to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, Pondexter and the Liberty look to keep their season alive by tying this series Saturday night.
Charles was named the WNBA Most Valuable Player earlier Thursday and received the honor that night before helping Connecticut win Game 1 of this semifinal series. She scored a game-high 17 points and blocked four shots in the 65-60 home win.
"I got a (personal) achievement, and we got the first playoff win," Charles said. "Now we have to build on that."
It was the Sun's first postseason victory since beating the Liberty in 2008, though New York won that series. Connecticut was swept in the opening round last year in Charles' first playoff appearance after failing to qualify for the previous two postseasons.
"This group has never won a playoff game so we'll take the win," coach Mike Thibault said. "It's exciting for them, but we're gonna have to play a whole lot better on Saturday to win there. ... Hopefully the first-game jitters are over."
Another win Saturday would send the Sun to their first East finals since 2006, though they would also have a chance to do so back home Monday night.
Pondexter advanced at least that far in three of her first five seasons with New York but now is at risk of falling in the opening round for a second consecutive year. The seven-year veteran, who placed seventh in this season's MVP voting, had 14 points Thursday but shot 3 for 16 as the Liberty hit 26.0 percent from the field.
"This may have been the worst playoff game I ever played," said Pondexter, who averaged 20.4 points during the regular season. "I didn't play smart basketball at all."
The only time she scored at least 20 in six matchups with Connecticut this season was in the Liberty's lone victory, 79-66 on Aug. 16 in the Sun's most recent visit to the Prudential Center. Charles was held to four and shot 1 of 7 in that game, but she scored no fewer than 17 in the other five meetings.
While Connecticut was a league-best 13-4 on the road this season, New York's 9-8 home record was the worst among teams which made the playoffs. The Liberty, though, won five of six home games in September and are 6-1 at home in the playoffs since 2006.
"Losing by five kind of gives you a little confidence going into Game 2 knowing that we can be a whole lot better offensively and defensively," Pondexter said. "We can't play offensively the way we did tonight to win Game 2 at home."
Updated September 28, 2012