Three takeaways: Liberty pull away from Mercury

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Diana Taurasi
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Diana Taurasi /

The New York Liberty have begun to right the ship after an uncharacteristic start to the season, pulling away from the Phoenix Mercury behind a balanced offensive outing and overwhelming interior game. After quickly falling behind by double digits, Phoenix fought back, but foul trouble to Brittney Griner hurt their chances down the stretch and allowed New York to pull away, 88-72.

Here are three takeaways from the Sunday afternoon matinee.

Kiah Stokes, emerging

After an impressive rookie campaign in which she came second in Rookie of the Year voting, the hype surrounding Kiah Stokes tailed off some after a sophomore season that saw marginal improvement and injury. Her start to this season was a big snore, that is until she’s exploded as of late, showing off what fans were drawn to when she first dawned a Liberty jersey.

Against the Mercury, she put up a ridiculous 17-point, 10-rebound first half, her first double-double in a half. This is also the first time she recorded back-to-back double-doubles in her career. Stokes finished with 23 points (a career high) and 14 rebounds on the afternoon, snatching up offensive boards, doing a helluva job on Brittney Griner and looking comfortable finishing around the rim. If this keeps up, we may have to label this the Kiah Stokes breakout season, which should scare the heck out of the WNBA.

The reliable Leilani Mitchell

When you think of the 2017 Phoenix Mercury, it really begins and ends with Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Now without Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner, there isn’t much of a supporting cast to lead the team’s top players to victories. There is, however, Leilani Mitchell, who year after year knows how to come in and play good basketball off the bench for whatever jersey she’s wearing.

When Mitchell’s on the court, you can just about always know what to expect. She’s going to be a feisty and annoying defender, showing little regard for the drawback of her size. Mitchell loves getting into players and making them uncomfortable. On the offensive end she can knock down the open jumper, zip in and out of the lane, and create for others. This contest against the Liberty was just another reminder of her impact. She put up 10 points, five rebounds and three assists, just another in a line of solid outings for Phoenix this season.

Shavonte Zellous stepping up

The Liberty have a point guard problem. With Brittany Boyd out for the season and Epiphanny Prince overseas this month, New York’s quarterbacking duties have fallen upon Bria Hartley and Lindsay Allen. The former is more of a back-up two and the latter is a recently-signed rookie. Luckily, another member of the roster has stepped it up.

Shavonte Zellous isn’t new to ball-handling and creation duties. Before joining New York last season, she was the Indiana Fever’s point guard at times, and that skillset is looking mighty beneficial for her new squad nowadays. Zellous put up 21 points and five assists against the Mercury, a follow-up to her 27-point, 8-rebound night on the Wings. Despite her technically being the starting small forward, Zellous has been the Lib’s impromptu floor general, bringing the ball up and initiating the offense for stretches at a time. She’s led bench units as well.

Zellous is a strong pick-and-roll ball handler, doing a solid job reading the floor and threatening the defense with her mid-range pull-up and driving game. We saw it against the Mercury, and we should keep seeing it going forward. For now, Zellous is the answer to the Lib’s point guard questions.