NEW YORK (AP) — Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince wanted to come home to New York and make the Liberty relevant again.
After two downtrodden seasons where New York missed the playoffs, they have the Liberty back in the postseason.
"It's really special for me," Charles said. "I haven't been in the playoffs the last two or three years, but it means more with this franchise. Being home, Epiphanny and I have always dreamed of winning the championship here and now we're one step closer."
Prince scored 22 points and the Liberty clinched their first playoff berth since 2012 with an 81-68 victory over the Minnesota Lynx on Friday night.
"It means everything to me to come home and get us to the playoffs," Prince said. "The Garden was rocking and it's great that we've brought excitement back to the city."
Charles added 18 points and 11 rebounds for New York (19-8), which holds a 2 1/2-game lead in the Eastern Conference. The Liberty have a one-game lead over the Lynx for the best record in the WNBA.
"We still have seven games left so a lot can happen," Charles said. "We just need to take care of every game."
Maya Moore led Minnesota (19-10) with 25 points, all coming after the first quarter.
This was the first meeting of the teams, marking the latest in the season that two conference leaders played for the first time according to STATS. The two will play again on Sept. 6 in Minnesota.
New York came out focused and built an 11-point lead in the first quarter behind Charles and Prince. Charles' 3-point play with about 20 seconds left in the first made it 25-14. After a basket by Devereaux Peters made it a nine-point game, Brittany Boyd was fouled right before the buzzer on a drive to the basket. After a lengthy review, the officials awarded her two free throws, which she hit to give New York a 27-16 advantage after one period.
"Another slow start for us and that's something we need to change," Moore said. "We just can't keep digging ourselves that big a hole and expect to be able to come back."
Minnesota rallied within two behind Moore, who was scoreless in the first quarter. She had 14 points in the second period to get the Lynx back in the game. They trailed 41-38 before Prince hit a 15-foot pullup just before the halftime buzzer.
Newk York extended its lead in the third, making it 58-44 on Prince's four-point play with 3:50 left in the period. Minnesota could get no closer than seven the rest of the game.
The Lynx were the prohibitive favorite to win a third crown in five seasons coming into this year, but they have struggled lately since acquiring All-Star center Sylvia Fowles. She finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
They have gone just 7-6 since the blockbuster deal on July 28 after starting the season 12-4.
Minnesota was once again without Seimone Augustus, who was on the sideline with a walking boot on her left foot.
"It's getting better but I'm still day-to-day," Augustus said. "It's frustrating to see us struggling and not be able to play right now."
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