New York, NY – In a game filled with sweet basketball moves, nice passing and overall thrills, the New York Liberty (13-11) had a true team performance in the 88-79 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks (8-17) in Friday night basketball at Madison Square Garden. New York had five players in double digit scoring for New York which propelled the Liberty to the fifth series win in the all-time history against the Sparks.
It was another gut wrenching back-and-forth affair between two competitive teams, as there was 19 lead changes along with the two teams being tied a whopping 14 times. Gritty defensive play and key buckets in the fourth quarter eventually gave the Liberty the much needed victory, as New York is now the fourth seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
Leading the way for New York was guard Cappie Pondexter who had 20 points; following was forward Janel McCarville who had 15 points. Taj McWilliams Franklin and Plenette Pierson both had 14 points each and Leilani Mitchell had 12 points with some crucial three-pointers down the stretch for the team.
“Honestly just going into the fourth quarter it was just one of those games where we would have to grind it out,” Liberty head coach Anne Donovan said. “Los Angeles played with a ton of confidence and we allowed them to play with confidence through three quarters.”
Helping out with the Sparks confidence was the play of legendary center Tina Thompson who had 18 points. Following was guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris who had 17 points. Forward Noelle Quinn had 13 points, while DeLisha Milton-Jones rounded out the scoring with 10 points and five rebounds.
“It was definitely a playoff feel tonight. I thought it was a good test for us,” Sparks head coach Jennifer Gillom said. “It was a good matchup for us, a good one but a tough one as well. I thought they had a really good balance scoring on the inside, outside, which was a tough matchup for us. But I thought our team played well up until the last two or three minutes of the game and that’s showing signs of growth.”
The crowd of 14,307 along with special guest alumni Teresa Weatherspoon and Sue Wicks were on hand to witness one of the more thrilling victories for New York in this young 2010 season. As the Liberty had the 45-43 lead over the Sparks going into the locker room at halftime, as Plenette Pierson drove a lay-up along with two good free throws by Mitchell to give them that lead.
Los Angeles would make the final two quarters close by controlling much of the third quarter. DeLisha Milton-Jones had a driving lay-up at the 4:30 mark in the third quarter to give the Sparks the 53-52 lead. Marie Ferdinand-Harris hit a jumper with 3:36 remaining to give Los Angeles the 55-54 lead. The end of the third quarter would not end the way New York wanted it too as two good free throws by Milton-Jones with 23 seconds left to give the Sparks the 63-62 lead.
“I think the difference in the third quarter was our ball movement,” Milton-Jones said of the Sparks turn around in that frame. “Our aggressiveness as a team really turned on our offense. When we are aggressive like that then the baskets come a lot easier and you have scoring all over the court, as opposed to one or two players dominating.”
In the fourth quarter New York would really step up the energy and their play as Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was so strong in the inside post all night long had a rebound and a lay-up at the 9:44 mark to give New York the 64-63 lead. Leilani Mitchell hit one of her many huge three point shots at the 8:20 mark to make it 67-66 in favor of New York.
“I just wanted to go out there and create something in the post, get the team going” McWilliams-Franklin said after the game. “For me to be able to get the rebounds tonight it was about timing and boxing the other team out and a lot of those missed shots were falling to me perfectly. I was there and had some put backs, and that is something that we as a team are going to have to do every night is to get those rebounds.”
Janelle McCarville who was another strong performer for New York tonight hit a jumper with 5:12 remaining as New York tried to keep pace with Los Angeles, who kept fighting back with key buckets all evening long. One of the bigger baskets for the Sparks was a jumper by Noelle Quinn at the 3:45 mark to cut the Liberty lead to 73-72. The heart of the team started to show in the final minutes as Cappie Pondexter had a huge block and defensive rebound which led to a Plenette Pierson jumper for the 75-72 lead with 2:17 remaining.
“For the first time in a long time the ball went into the net more than it usually does,” McCarville said of her 7-of-12 shooting from the field, which included some nice jump shots. “Everyone has been in my ear and getting my confidence up, telling me to stop thinking and keep shooting. I couldn’t be prouder of the win tonight, with all of the stars that are on the Sparks we were able to take care of business and it was a great win.”
Leilani Mitchell who has been playing huge all season long for the Liberty had series including a driving lay-up; a steal and two good free throws to give New York the 79-72 lead. Forward Nicole Powell had her second huge three-point shot of the night with 1:52 remaining to make the lead 82-72. New York continued to grind out the game as McCarville continued a fine offensive showing by hitting a driving lay-up with 48.9 seconds left to pad the Liberty lead to 86-76. Mitchell had two good free throws to make the score 88-79 as Plenette Pierson had a huge block to go along with a Pondexter rebound to cap the New York victory.
“Leilani is playing with so much confidence right now,” Anne Donovan said of her point guard. “She came into this year really fighting for the point guard position and gained the trust of the players with every practice and every game. What we have now is the product of a lot of hard work on Leilani’s part.”
Of the fourth quarter the point guard had this to say, “The last few minutes we really buckled down and we knew we needed a win. We’re still trying to make the playoffs so I think when it came down to it we really got the stops when we needed them.”
The quest for a playoff spot continues for New York as they face the Connecticut Sun for a 4:30 p.m. Sunday evening game at Madison Square Garden.