If you don’t think over 14,000 screaming kids with thundersticks can make a difference, try telling that to the Atlanta Dream (4-3). The New York Liberty were certainly inspired to raise their game in response and extended their winning streak to three as defense and rebounding were the keys to opening the doors to a 76-61 victory at Madison Square Garden on School Day.
The twin towers of Tina Charles and Kiah Stokes put the muscle to the paint and dominated with an excellent first half of play. The ball movement was excellent and the results of feeding your big players in the most advantageous positions produced a combined 25 points and 32 rebounds between them alone.
“For two players to have 32 rebounds, that’s pretty solid,” Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer said.
“I’ve always told our players the old Pat Riley thing ’No rebounds, No ring!’. When you let two players get 32 rebounds it makes it difficult for you,” added Atlanta Flame Head coach Michael Cooper.
Tina Charles beat double teams and overpowered Sancho Lyttle to a 18 point and 15 rebound night which carried New York (5-3) to an 18-point lead at intermission. Her tag team partner Kiah Stokes, continued to improve by jumpstarting the attack as she has done for these three games via the board domination. The Liberty jumped out the gates with a 7-0 start and a 29-17 first quarter as Stokes grabbed nine of her 17 boards in this opening quarter.
“My suspicion is we are going to see a double-double almost every game now,” Laimbeer said, “She (Stokes) is an outstanding rebounder. It’s one of her fortes.”
“I just have to have more of a presence,” Stokes added, “My first couple of games here I was kind of lackluster.”
But what made this game fairly easy was the outer defenses spearheaded by Sugar Rodgers and Shavonte Zellous who both had double-digit scoring nights but supplemented it by shutting down the Atlanta shooters to the tune of 28%.
“Our goal was to keep this team perimeter. They didn’t make any shots and we got the rebounds,” Laimbeer said, “Sugar defended (Tiffany) Hayes most of the game and Hayes didn’t really get any good looks at the basket because Sugar was right in her.”
The return of Lindsay Allen (6 pts, 4 ast.) continues to be a plus on a night where Bria Hartley did not play well moving Laimbeer to use her for 23 minutes this time.
It’s why we brought her back,” Laimbeer said, “She doesn’t turn the ball over, got us into things, plays dogged defense. I think she played well tonight.”
The second half was lackluster as the Liberty did not continue to do the things that made them successful in the first half and Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Sykes pecked away cutting the deficit to nine.
“We got stagnant in the second half. Our defense was active, solid, but we gave away too many second shots,” said Bill Laimbeer.
But the Liberty stayed poised and the 14,816 fans at Madison Square Garden did not relent all game. It was enough to allow the Liberty to coast on that pure emotion that even penetrated a hardened professional like Tina Charles.
“I’m happy that we were able to get the win and put on a good performance, especially for the kids out there,” Charles said.
The New York Liberty were able to hold their ground in a quiet scoring fourth to secure their third consecutive victory with the final game of this home stand to be played Sunday against the Seattle Storm.
“We have to stay level-headed-you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. We’re going against a great team in Seattle,” Charles reminded, “They stole a win from us down in Seattle so we’re looking forward to playing against them.”
“We’re in a good place mentally now,” Laimbeer added.