The Phoenix Mercury (4-3) thought they had the answer to Tina Charles by placing their 6’8” battleship Brittney Griner on her this afternoon. It served it’s purpose in limiting Charles at first. But all it did was open the floodgates for Kiah Stokes and Shavonte Zellous to post 20+ points respectively and along with Tina Charles late charge served as the three-headed monster that offset Griner and Diana Taurasi on the road to an impressive 88-72 victory over the Mercury at Madison Square Garden.
The first half surprisingly was a scoring duel between Kiah Stokes who popped in 17 first half points to counter Griner’s 19 initially. Stokes would go on to a post a career high 23 points and 14 rebounds, recording her second double-double in as many games signaling her continuing rise from a lethargic start to the season.
“She’s in a good place and I think she’s showed good progress,” said Liberty Head coach Bill Laimbeer.
Add to the mix Shavonte Zellous, who was in scoring mode again slashing to the basket and placing her mid-range jumper into the hoop for 10 of her 21 points in the opening half. Zellous also created chances for others with five assists while limiting Liberty-killer Diana Taurasi to a quiet 17, two nights removed from her WNBA record-breaking night for career three pointers against the Chicago Sky as New York took a respectable 47-41 lead into the break.
“I think Zellous did a good job on Taurasi, stayed with her the whole game, and never gave her a lot of space,” Laimbeer said.
It just continued to flow the Liberty way as Phoenix had an awful shooting afternoon at 34% and New York swept the defensive boards clean and dominated the paint point-wise to the tune of 42-24 overall. As Griner drew her fourth foul followed by a technical, she left the court and Tina Charles took full advantage pounding the pavement and racking up 16 points. But it was the Liberty strategy to keep Griner and Taurasi within acceptable limits that was followed to the letter.
“We had a good game plan. Griner is a handful,” Laimbeer said, “You know they (Griner and Taurasi) are going to get theirs to a point. But just don’t let them dominate. I thought they did a good job of that.”
Liberty guards Bria Hartley and Lindsay Allen were effective away from the score sheet. They ran the offense well and their passing was daring at times, always hitting players on the run for easy scores while keeping a brisk pace. Liberty draft pick Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe continues to impress with her athleticism, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds off the pine helping to suppress a Mercury rally coming out in the second half.
“We had a good lead, they made a run and we showed poise. That was solid,” Laimbeer said, “Down the stretch Zellous took over and made all the right plays, scoring and hitting the right people. That’s what she can do.”
New York (4-3) appears to have come together well after the Los Angeles loss and appear to be themselves again. But they continue to look for new ways to integrate each individuals best assets to fit the whole and ultimately with the idea of making themselves multi-dimensional by the time Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn return.
“We’re getting a little better. We’re still finding our way,” Laimbeer said, “That’s what we’re pointing towards, getting better night now.”
The Liberty play the leaders of the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Dream, Wednesday morning at 11am on the Madison Square Garden floor for School Day presented by the NYC Department of Education. This is the fourth leg of their five game home stand.