The New York Liberty came into Friday night’s game against the Indiana Fever at Madison Square Garden facing their first bout with adversity this season.
Another loss would push the Liberty losing streak to four games, with a big three-game road trip next on the schedule. This was about as close to a must-win, even this early in the season, for New York.
Sugar Rodgers scored 21 points, including 5 of 8 from behind the three-point line, to lead the Liberty to a blowout win over the Fever, 91-59.
Tina Charles, 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists, played another strong all-around game for New York.
The Liberty snapped their three-game losing streak in a big way, and at the right time, to improve to 3-3 on the season.
“The frustration of last week kind of came out tonight,” said head coach Bill Laimbeer afterwards. “We came out and got it done, we played a good basketball game.”
New York came out playing inspired basketball tonight with plenty of energy from the opening tip. Swin Cash, in the starting lineup for the first time this season, connected on her first two shot attempts from the field.
The Liberty, with Cash in the lineup and Tanisha Wright moving back into the lead guard position, looked more balanced on offense with improved spacing on the floor.
“I know what I’m going to get from Swin in the starting lineup,” Laimbeer said when asked about putting Cash back in with the starters. “ I think more importantly it was Tanisha going back to the lead guard that settled us down a little bit. Especially when Tina’s in the game… I think that unit, that was out there, knows each other very well and it showed tonight.”
Tina Charles, after the game, touched on how it felt to see the offense come together.
“That had a lot to do with the adjustment we made with putting Tanisha at the one,” said Charles on the role Tanisha Wright’s importance. “She’s great, she knows how to organize the team, and keep us accountable for what we do and for what’s expected of us. So having her back at the one, and throw Swin in there for the hustle plays and everything like that, it’s real good for us.”
Indiana, led by Tamika Catchings and Marissa Coleman, kept New York from creating any distance on the scoreboard. There were nine lead changes in the opening quarter. Amanda Zahui B. drained a three-pointer, with 49.5 seconds left, to give the Liberty a 26-20 lead to close out the first quarter.
New York, with increased pressure on defense, put an end to the back and forth in the second quarter. Indiana went cold midway through, with the Liberty making sure to capitalize. Kiah Stokes came in, off the bench, and helped stabilize the defense for New York with three blocks and eight rebounds.
The Liberty led by as much as 13 in the second quarter. New York closed out the half with an impressive 11-0 run, leaving Indiana to head into the locker room searching for answers.
In the second half, a layup by Carolyn Swords pushed the Liberty’s lead up to 17. Indiana couldn’t find enough on offense to close the gap before New York exploded for 31 points in the fourth quarter.
It was the offensive explosion, combined with their trademark defense, the Liberty and their fans have been waiting for.
The Liberty came into tonight, losers of three in a row. There were the two overtime losses, to Los Angeles and Atlanta respectively, then they were thoroughly outplayed by Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx. New York had to have this game. It was clear, from the start, there was a sense of urgency for them.
“Yeah definitely,” Charles told me afterwards on if there was a sense of urgency. “The two games we let go to Los Angeles and Atlanta, the first quarter that we gave away against Minnesota, not adjusting as soon as possible. So for sure this is definitely a great launch into the road that we have and I’m happy we were able to put it together for us to see and have confidence that we can keep doing this consistently.
“Yes, there was a sense of urgency,” Swin Cash said to me after the game. “We dropped a few in a row and obviously a couple of those games we felt we should’ve won and had opportunities to win. We had some good practices and just tried to come out tonight and make sure we were locked in and we play at a high level.”
Shavonte Zellous was a game-changer tonight for the Liberty with the way she pushed the pace while on the floor. The energetic guard scored 13 points in 21 minutes of play with three assists. Brittany Boyd added seven points and five assists for New York.
Amanda Zahui B. added seven points, off the bench, in ten minutes of action. Shoni Schimmel came in, near the end of the game, and knocked down two three-pointers ,which kept the Garden crowd on their feet until the final buzzer.
“I thought our focus was there from start to finish and I was really happy to see some of the younger players get in and get those minutes and start playing together,” said Cash. “They’ve been chomping at the bit to really get their time and it was good to be out there with them and see that energy.”
There was a much more balanced approach on offense for the Liberty. While Charles is the focal point of the Liberty’s offensive attack, however, the need for a second or third option when opposing defenses clamp down on her, is going to be vital to any progression the Liberty look to make this season.
On Friday night, those options were there and the result was an entertaining brand of basketball that lit up the scoreboard and gave the Liberty a much-needed victory to feel good about as they begin their three-game road trip.
“It feels good,” said Cash afterwards on the impressive offensive numbers tonight. “Teams, like Indiana, are going to take a few different things away from you. We’re getting better, we’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting better at reading and realizing that Tina is going to get doubled every night and we have to be able to make teams pay and how we do that collectively is important. That’s only going to propel us to that next level of not just being a good team but being a great team.”