Tina Charles finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, her ninth double-double of the season, to lead the New York Liberty to a thrilling 80-79 win over the Chicago Sky, Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty improved to 10-4 on the season, and they’re now on a six-game win streak.
Charles played with a face mask to protect a broken nose. Before the game, it was disclosed that she suffered the injury in New York’s double-overtime win Wednesday in Atlanta.
Chicago, whose record dropped to 6-8, was Elena Delle Donne’s game-high 31 points, including 5 of 7 from the three-point line, along with eight rebounds. Ex-Liberty star Cappie Pondexter added 20 points for the Sky.
The Liberty had an 11-point lead, in the fourth quarter, when Chicago began to make their final push.
New York held a 78-73 lead with 3:02 left, in the fourth quarter, when Delle Donne drained a jumper to bring the Sky within three points. The Liberty, on the following play, turned the ball over with a shot clock violation. Delle Donne, again, made them pay with another jumper to make it a one-point game.
This game, with under a minute to play, would come down to which team would execute better. Chicago, thanks to a shot clock violation, turned the ball over to New York. Sugar Rodgers, following a well-timed cut to the basket, scored on an alley-oop layup from Kiah Stokes to give the Liberty an 80-77 lead with 39.5 seconds left. Delle Donne, however, wasn’t done yet.
Chicago, following a 20-second timeout, went right back to Delle Domme and she delivered again with another jump shot to bring the Sky back within one. The Liberty had an opportunity to pad their slim lead, however, Charles missed on a five-foot hook shot. Delle Donne got the rebound to set up the final play of the game.
It appeared everyone in the building knew the ball was going to the hot shooting hand of Delle Donne. She raised up, with 00.2 left on the clock, for a three-pointer, which came up short at the buzzer.
“It was a good win for us, no question about it,” said a visibly pleased Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer afterwards. “ Elena Delle Donne did all she could to try and shoot them into the game. We got tired, no question about that, I think everyone saw it in the fourth quarter.”
The crowd was energized from the start for this one. The Liberty hosted their annual Pride Night at the Garden. Both teams wore warmup shirts, which read Orlando United, in honor of Orlando club shooting victims.
The Sky raced out to an early 8-2 lead on consecutive threes from Delle Donne and a jumper from Pondexter. New York found their rhythm on offense, scoring the next six points, to tie the game.
Amanda Zahui B came off the bench for New York, with six points, one steal, and two blocks, during an impressive 10-0 Liberty run which gave them a 26-16 lead, going into the second quarter.
“I’m learning to play my bench more, to give us more time,” said Laimbeer. “I thought our bench played phenomenal in the first half. They came in and expanded the lead, we’ve been talking to them about giving them more opportunities, especially collectively as a group.”
In the second quarter, Chicago, anchored by Delle Donne and Pondexter, managed to stay within striking distance. The Sky pulled to within six, with a steal and layup by Allie Quigley. The Liberty, however, answered back with a strong move to the basket by Swin Cash for a layup. Cash, on New York’s next offensive possession, would then find Kiah Stokes for a layup to push their lead back to 48-38. Sugar Rodgers, with nine seconds left, would sink a three-pointer, to send the Liberty into halftime with a 51-40 advantage.
New York shot 4 for 9, from the three-point line, in the first half.
Charles picked up her fourth foul, on a questionable call from the referees, with 4:29 left in the third. Delle Donne promptly nailed a three-pointer, for Chicago, on the next possession, to cut New York’s lead to 58-51. Delle Donne hit on two free throws to cut the Liberty lead to a slim 60-57 advantage. Charles, however, had the answer, once again, with a jump shot for New York.
The Liberty donated $10,000 to the OneOrlando fund that was set up to support the victims’ families and survivors.
It was the Liberty’s annual Pride Night at The Garden, and the attendance was 10,120.
Rebecca Allen gave the Liberty a nice lift off the bench. Allen returned, from Australia, to rejoin the Liberty. She scored eight points, including 2 for 2 from long-distance, in a little over 12 minutes of action.
“We knew what she was about when she was here last time,” Laimbeer said. “She’s improved her game in some areas. She has a couple of post moves and some other moves that she didn’t have when she left here last time. We know she’s a deep threat, which you saw tonight. She runs the floor well, which you saw tonight … going forward i expect to play her about as long as I did tonight because she can spread the ball for us and it opens it up for Tina or any of our post players, on the inside.”
The Liberty are back at the Garden, on Sunday for a matchup with the Phoenix Mercury. The Liberty, celebrating their 20th season, will feature a reunion of the inaugural 1997 team, which will be introduced during a pre-game ceremony.