The New York Liberty are not a championship team. The unit in Minnesota appears to be that. They are not a playoff team at this juncture even in a largely mediocre Eastern Conference. After a 78-68 loss Friday night at Madison Square Garden to the last place Chicago Sky (6-12) they are not even an average team. Another monster game from their All-Star Tina Charles was not enough to see them through as offense has run dry and shooting, without a producing Sugar Rodgers, is no longer a forte.
The loss could not have could come at a worst time and was not a total surprise historically as New York tended to be off their game coming off extended road trips. The effort was visible but there is a loss of enthusiasm that was prevalent the last two years which is now missing, replaced by a stressed team.
“It was a loss we didn’t think we could use right now,” said Liberty Head coach Bill Laimbeer, “The tightness that is upon our team now is bothering us. It’s a struggle like pulling teeth across the board.”
The strengths and weaknesses of the Liberty (8-9) both reside in their big players. The problem area centers around the player that once was the lighthouse coming off the bench the last two seasons. It is Kiah Stokes who served as the identifying marker of this team with her rebounding and shot-blocking prowess. She lost her starting position at center and there doesn’t appear a solution in sight.
“It’s hit or miss, sometimes she is engaged, sometimes she’s not,” Laimbeer said, “It has changed. The reasons why are open to debate. Her presence and confidence level, the impact on the game hasn’t happened for her this year.
The beneficiary of this is Kia Vaughn. She has embraced her second run in New York reducing Stokes to limited action. Her solid, veteran presence has been, like tonight, one of the few consistent points in the Liberty attack.
“(Kia) Vaughn is playing well right now. She’s a physical presence out there and she demands the basketball on the inside and she sets the best screens on the team so she’s going to play her fair share of minutes,” said Laimbeer.
Tina Charles was in beast mode tonight for the Liberty with 23 points and 19 rebounds which was impressive since she experienced a very slow start. She kept New York close at the half but could not stop the boulder from rolling down the hill in a disappointing fourth quarter in front of 9,341 fans. The lack of a second scorer has made it tougher to produce offense and the bench is no longer a place where they could tap into for crucial points.
“We could have won the ballgame if we made some shots,” Laimbeer said, Overall, our defense is keeping ourselves in games. It’s the offensive part is what’s struggling now. We are not getting consistent bench scoring. I might have to move a starter there to get us a boost when everyone is tired.”
The Liberty look to get back to even this Sunday afternoon at 3pm against the Washington Mystics in the second of three straight games at Madison Square Garden.