The New York Liberty are breaking records as well as teams on this mighty streak that took them from a .500 team early this month to clinching a playoff bye and home court advantage in that game with their dismantling of the Chicago Sky 92-62 this afternoon before 9,317 at Madison Square Garden. There were a number of accomplishments that reflected how successful this team has been for the past three years though Liberty Head coach Bill Laimbeer would trade all this for a banner hanging in the garden.
The Liberty (20-12) secured their third straight twenty-win season today, something no liberty team has ever accomplished. This was made possible by this late winning streak that began with that magic second quarter against Los Angeles until now. Many things can be pointed to as the empatis for this run. The offense which has caught up and finally balanced the already formidable defense the Liberty has always possessed.
“I think a little bit of role definition,” Laimbeer said, “We finally understood who were. Hartley in the starting lineup to give us more pace has been a big contributing factor. We have bigs that can run and you saw good, easy baskets.”
The re-emergence of Epiphanny Prince as a scoring force is at the top. She is healthy, not in Russia and is in her killer crossover and basket torching mode and that has been the key compliment to Tina Charles, who has been without a second scoring threat most of this year and it has opened up the paint taking the pressure off of Charles to carry this team on her shoulders. Tina Charles looked liberated as she led the way again with 22 points and with it became the 20th leading scorer in WNBA history passing Chamique Holdsclaw and all in just 22 minutes of play.
“Milestones and everything I do, they just happen along the way,” Charles said, “I just try to go out and play for my teammates respect all the time.”
Bria Hartley at the point guard and the moving of Sugar Rodgers to the bench allowed Epiphanny Prince to play shooting guard where she is more suited. The Liberty have gone 11-3 since then improving their shooting from the field and even three point range. On the opposite side of the court a scoreless and aging Cappie Pondexter was quite a contrast to a younger Prince in her prime with better support.
“I’ve just been trusting the process,” Hartley said, “I think we’re just coming together right now as a team. Everyone’s role is defined and they understand and embrace it.”
The Liberty have now won eight straight games, the second longest in franchise history and much of it has been due to the bedrocks of their team, defense and rebounding. Today they continued to display those qualities holding the struggling Sky (12-19) to 62 points and totally dominating the glass 46-25 of which 28 were offensive rebounds. Kiah Stokes with ten points and ten boards, her fourth double-double of the year pacing a bench who got a lot of work in a rare rout. Sugar Rodgers helped shut down Allie Quigley who did not hit a single field goal, the only time it has happened in 2017.
“You hope for a game where you can find time for the bench players, “ Laimbeer said,” Our bench came and they extended the lead at times and I thought they played very well.”
The Liberty have found that focusing on their game has translated to success no matter who they play. Games that tripped them up in the past has not been a factor in this run. Confidence is growing daily where they are becoming the team no one wants to play in the playoffs.
“We’re starting to add character to our identity, who we want to be, just making defense our staple and holding everyone accountable,” Charles said.
The Liberty will host a one-game playoff in the second round on September 10th at the garden where they have won the last seven times.