Restarting the WNBA season at the Garden worked out very well for the NY Liberty tonight.
It was a milestone night for Tina Charles. Not only did she score her 17th double-double, she also surpassed 4000 points for her career.
And the 92-70 win over the Phoenix Mercury puts The one win away from clinching a top-four seed in the WNBA Playoffs, and the first round bye that comes with it. Reaching 20 wins, New York has now posted consecutive 20-win seasons for just the second time in franchise history, the last coming in 2000-01.
“Clinching the third seed and making my teammates better means something,” Charles said. “The game everyone had tonight, everyone had a moment. That does everything for me just showing that what I do has a snowball affect. Positively or negatively, so I just know I have to keep my head up high to force the issue with my teammates and hopefully every game everyone will have a moment.”
Charles finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, becoming the 29th player in WNBA history to reach 4,000 points, the sixth fastest, and third youngest, to do so. Only Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi were younger when they reached 4,000 points.
“We know who our horse is, our players will tell you the same thing, coaches will tell you the same thing, the fans will tell you, and the entire team will tell you that Tina Charles is an absolute stud on the basketball court,” said Liberty coach Bill Lambeer. “If we can find ways of spreading her and getting her shots even against a tall player like Brittney Griner. She can produce, and that is what she did tonight. She has never been the selfish player who has said, “watch me get mine”. It has always been team and to a fault at times, but at the same time she demonstrates the great leaderships skills she has. Sometimes you have to be selfish when you’re a player like her. You have to go out and dominate.”
Sugar Rodgers scored 19 points and buried four 3-pointers, moving into a tie for Shameka Christon for the most 3-pointers in a single-season in franchise history with 78, which leads the WNBA this year.
“Britney Boyd found me, I knocked down some threes, got to the basket, and just played defense,” she said. “We are just taking it one game at a time.”
Brittany Boyd, starting a second-straight game at the point, poured in a season-high 19 points, finishing a handful of tough and-one’s at the rim, also dishing out six assists with two steals.
“I feel more in control in the game,” Boyd said. “Coming off of the bench, I can watch a little bit see how the game flows, but now I’m in a starting position. This is something I’ve worked on during the offseason and during the break and the opportunity has presented itself. I’m pretty much showing what I have been doing and what I have been working on.”
The Liberty were off to a very slow start offensively, trailing 4-3 through four minutes of action, but eventually ended the opening period on a 16-2 run to take a commanding lead. Charles scored 14 of her game-high 23 in the first, capping off an impressive stretch with a 3-pointer at 1:50 to push the New York advantage to 23-14.
“She wants to win that championship really bad,” said Phoenix point guard Diana Taurasi “You can tell by how she plays every game right now. She’s playing at an unbelievable level. She wants to put a banner in this building because she’s from here. She works tremendously hard and she’s playing at that level where she’s trying to put the team on her back and she’s doing a great job.”
That double-digit lead was maintained throughout the second quarter thanks to Boyd, who had seven points in the period while dishing out two of her assists, as the Liberty took a 48-34 advantage into the locker room after limited the Mercury to just 30.6 percent from the field.
Phoenix would rally. Once trailing 68-42 midway through the third, the Mercury used a 20-5 run to pull to 73-62 with over eight minutes remaining, but the gap never closed further. Rodgers scored on consecutive possessions to put the Liberty back up by 15, and the lead was 20 once again as Boyd completed a 3-point play out on the break, drawing contact from Marta Xargay at the rack to put New York on top 87-66.
Xargay led the Mercury with 16 points, one of four in double figures for Phoenix. However, the Mercury were limited to just 32.8 percent from the field and 17.3 percent (4-of-23) from 3-point range.
“You just have to be assertive,” Charles said. “Tonight, you were able to see the team collectively what they were able to work on during the Olympic break. Earlier I said, everybody had their moment and we definitely needed this game the way it happened.”
Thanks to Charles, they did.