This was a crossroads battle for the New York Liberty and defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks going into tonight’s contest at Madison Square Garden. The Sparks (3-2) needed a win to snap a two-game losing streak while the Liberty needed to beat at an elite team while they still had Epiphanny Prince available to them. Tina Charles carried New York on her back to start and Prince had a brilliant all-around evening but the Los Angeles Sparks showed their championship mettle to defeat New York 90-75 on Military Appreciation Night.
The Liberty, (2-3) in the interest of reducing their All-Star forward Tina Charles workload, got away from getting the ball to her in the post in past games. But with a lineup reduced recently by injuries and international commitments, New York went back to their bread and butter. Charles wanted the ball and scored from inside with hooks and spin jumpers. She scored from outside with her trademark fade-away while piling up the numbers to the tune of 25 points, 19 in the first half leading New York to a well-earned 38-36 lead at the half. But as Liberty Head coach Bill Laimbeer stated later, it’s going to take more than just Charles.
“This isn’t going to be one person saving us or one person making us fail,” Laimbeer said, “It’s a collective group of players and coaches. We have to stick together and do this.”
Confidence seemed to be in short supply as the Sparks took control to start the second half. Only Sugar Rodgers (13 points) and Prince seemed committed as they took the reigns in the third as Los Angeles threatened to break the game open. But just as Rodgers grit put some meat into a Liberty defense that was not as quick coming out, she energized the offense hitting three of five from three point land.
Prince, the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week, wanted badly to make an impact knowing she would be gone after tonight and was solid for the most part but she put together an important seven point run coinciding with Rodgers shooting burst to drag New York back into the game as they trailed by only two going into the fourth. Prince would hit for 21 points but the Sparks size and athletic edge took its toll as the Liberty could only compete in spurts.
“Every time we face adversity, we have to get mentally stronger,” Laimbeer said, “We give them easy baskets and second shots and that can’t happen against quality teams.”
New York stopped going inside and Charles disappeared for the balance of the second half. Kiah Stokes put up a donut, zero points that put an additional strain on an offense that now will be without three of its top seven players.
“Our post players are wide open and we are not looking early on to get them the ball,” Laimbeer said, “By the time we do, they’re covered or it gets stolen.”
The turnover was the death dealer. Eighteen in total. It lighted up a transition game that favored Los Angeles 17-5. It cost the Liberty time and time again and the Sparks two superstars Candace Parker (20 pts, 11 rebounds) and Nneka Ogwumike (22 points, 7 rebounds) found their games with open spaces all over the court. The fourth was more of the same as the Sparks showed their championship qualities running out to a 77-64 lead with under seven minutes to play. Los Angeles play increased and the Liberty decreased in the money quarter. The closest they got was within nine points.
“It’s the little things that collectively add up to big things. That’s what’s happening to us,” Laimbeer said.
The difference in quality was exposed to a disappointing crowd of 8,000 as the Sparks had it all their way with four players finishing in double digits. The defense was shredded and the bench, a former strength, was outscored 23-12. The Liberty will lose Prince and Kia Vaughn to European commitments and are no closer to solving the point guard situation among others.
“We knew it was coming. The league doesn’t stop. It is what it is,” Laimbeer said, “We have to dig deep and work harder and smarter. Our goal is to win as many games as possible and tread water until we get our players back.”
The Liberty continue this Friday on the second game of this five-game home stand against the Dallas Wings at 7pm