Like the unfortunate souls who were inundated by torrential rains on their way to Madison Square Garden Satuday afternoon, the New York Liberty ran into Hurricane Bill after a 73-64 win over the short-handed San Antonio Stars in their 2017 WNBA season and home opener.
There was a lot and much to be desired.
Familiars like Liberty legend Vickie Johnson, who is the current head coach of the Stars and Alex Montgomery, former New York guard returned to their old haunts but without Moriah Jefferson and the 2017 WNBA number one pick, Kelsey Plum for this contest they were short-handed. “
If they had their full squad, we probably would have lost the game. That can’t happen,” Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer said.
In fact Montgomery was the trade bait used to get the ninth pick, draft supersub guard Brittney Boyd, in the 2015 WNBA Draft who got the start at the point paired with Sugar Rodgers in the backcourt. She struggled early but her six point explosion was the key to holding off San Antonio at the end.
“In order for us to win a championship we have to play better, and we have to be consistent on that level every single night,” Boyd said.
Another member of that draft Kiah Stokes, got the promotion to starting center emphasizing the commitment to youth in key positions. But in the post-game Laimbeer pointed out that her conditioning was not up to par as the Kelsey Plum-less Stars fought the Liberty nearly even on the boards. Kiah, among others, dropped the ball by playing a poor game leaving their coach to speculate how badly this team really wants a championship.
“They have it within them, they have it in that locker room to be able to do it, it’s just a matter if they’re willing to pay the price,” Laimbeer said, “They have to do the little things, Kiah Stokes, I mean, she looked terrible tonight, out of shape, she couldn’t get the ball.”
But early on it was All-Star Tina Charles who shouldered the scoring load finishing with a team leading 12 points while New York found their sea legs. One pair of swift legs belongs to Bria Hartley who stabilized the attack on both ends and was a major positive though
Initially, though the bench was the reason for the Liberty taking a lead into the intermission with third-year player Cierra Burdick leading the way as she made it rain with a variety of scoring methods and finishing with ten points. She defended passing lanes like her job depended on it, which is how the bench in New York usually plays as they set the tone leading New York to a 37-28 halfime lead.
The third quarter started with a duel between Tina Charles and the Star’s Monique Currie, who was the sole threat for San Antonio leading them with 23 points and five boards. Then a run ignited by Sugar Rodgers first and only three of the game midway through the third and carried by a team effort won the quarter and nearly broke it open in the fourth by the law firm of Vaughn, Zellous, Prince and Zahui B.
Five Liberty players finished in double figures but they couldn’t close. “You’re supposed to keep the pedal on them and we didn’t do it,” Tina Charles said, “We know there are some things we have to fix.”
The Liberty did not light it up offensively and missed a ton of shots shooting 42% but they shut down the Stars with an improved collection of weapons that collectively mimimized turnovers and kept the game under control until halfway through the fourth.
It was here that the lack of killer instinct showed as the Stars closed to within eight. This was suddenly a game again until it was diffused by Brittney Boyd, who scored on consecutive layups and a crucial jumper when they closed to eight.
But with the Minnesota Lynx coming to town and the importance of finishing in the top two making every game important, the Liberty are going to held accountable.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat anything this year,” Laimbeer said, “We’re going to talk about what reality is and how if you want to compete for a championship, you have to do your business individually and collectively and you have to get it done and that’s how we’re going to do business.”
Imagine if they had lost today.
Comment: Luis Vazquez (@Cyberj2000 –twitter.com/Cyberj2000?s=03