Sky vs. Liberty: Three takeaways from Friday night at Madison Square Garden

Chicago guard Courtney Vandersloot surveys the court. Photo by Abe Booker, III
Chicago guard Courtney Vandersloot surveys the court. Photo by Abe Booker, III /

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NEW YORK—A battle between two teams in need of wins came down to the final period Friday night at Madison Square Garden, with the New York Liberty falling to the Chicago Sky, 78-68.

Here’s what we learned about the Eastern Conference foes:

The Sky needed Courtney Vandersloot

Over the past two games, a Sky team that had been averaging fewer than 20 assists topped 30. It is no knock on Cappie Pondexter that this happened in her absence, but rather that Pondexter’s concussion forced Sky coach Amber Stocks to play Courtney Vandersloot as the Sky’s true one for the duration of each game.

Vandersloot, one of the most underrated players in the league, set the tone early, putting the Liberty in an early hole and forcing a team that is offensively challenged beyond Tina Charles to play from behind. Getting Vandersloot operating out of the pick-and-pop with Stefanie Dolson, who posted another efficient night scoring from a variety of spots on the floor, served as further proof that the Sky have stumbled onto an answer in a few ways despite the overall team record. And Vandersloot’s trip to the basket, complete with reverse layup with under a minute left, served as the final dagger. 11 points, nine assists, but more important, Vandersloot controlled the game.


Tina Charles is the Liberty

On a night Epiphanny Prince struggled to find her shot and Sugar Rodgers missed 11 of her first 12 attempts, Tina Charles, once again, put the Liberty on her back. That she grabbed 17 rebounds in the game she became the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounding felt apt. Charles is capable of creating her own shot, contesting them at the other end, passing out of the high post, rebounding in bunches—it is why she’s an All Star. But the amount of times she’s needed to do all of that at once? Well, it’s why the Liberty are just 8-9 despite Charles’ season to date.

Where is Kiah?

When the Liberty have won this year, as in 2015 and 2016, Kiah Stokes has been a vital contributor. It can be argued she is the reason the Liberty have been elite defensively over the past few seasons.

But on Friday night, after a seven-game stretch in which Stokes played fewer than 15 minutes per contest, she played 8:54 total. It’s not as if Kia Vaughn has been struggling—with a double-double in that stretch—but the extent to which the Liberty’s identity is tied up in what Stokes is and Stokes does cannot be ignored. And they are not 2-6 over their past eight games.