It seems like the Indiana Fever own the Liberty as much as James Dolan does. Indiana ended New York’s title run with a 66-51 win in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night. The Fever took six of eight from the Liberty, including two of the three in the playoffs.
Despite the tough loss, the season was considered a success by head coach Bill Laimbeer. They began as a pre-season question mark and ended up with the best regular season record. “Our players are going to grow up,” said the 2015 WNBA Coach of the Year. “They’ve had a good learning experience. This is the first year they’ve played together. We have a lot of inexperience, first time making the playoffs. I take a very big positive from the season. Yeah, it hurts today, it’s gonna hurt tomorrow, it’s gonna hurt next week. But still, it’s about the body of work and where we want to be. I’ll take this season as is all day when I started.”
It’s been an interesting year for the Bad Boy. Laimbeer was let go as Liberty coach in October, but the team reversed course and brought him back. A few months after Laimbeer returned, it was announced that his old Piston teammate Isiah Thomas would join the Liberty as team president. The reunion of Thomas and Dolan was heavily criticized but Laimbeer gave his old friend his due. “I got to give Isiah Thomas a lot of credit for coming in and setting the tone. We took a lot of heat, our team took a lot of heat, our organization took a lot of heat, but at the same time he was unwavering.”
New York looked poised to send Indiana home when they took an 18-point lead in Game 2, but the Fever came back to win by six. Game 3 was somewhat anti-climactic as New York trailed for the entirety of the second half. The Liberty cut a 16-point lead down to four but would get no closer. “Bottom line is we should’ve handled business game two,” said Tina Charles, who finished with a double-double in game 3. “That’s all it is. They were the better team tonight, that’s it. We were the better team the first game, we were the better team game two, we just didn’t pull it out.”
Charles was one of the major reasons that the Liberty made it all the way to the final game of the conference finals. Of equal importance was the culture change that occurred under Charles and Laimbeer. “I think we brought the atmosphere back like back in the day when I was watching ‘Spoon and Becky Hammon and Sue Wicks and Kym Hampton, Tari Phillips, all of them,” Charles said. “I think we brought that energy back, which was lost over the last couple of years.”
The Fever are going to the WNBA Finals, but the future is bright for the Liberty. “We built this team for the future, we built this team to grow with us as a team together and for the fans, and we built a team that will compete for the championship for a long time.”