Three Takeaways: Liberty defeat Sun 82-70 to tie season series


The third place Connecticut Sun hosted the fifth place New York Liberty Friday night. Both teams entered the game on a winning streak; the Sun won their last six games and the Liberty their last three. In the end, it would be New York’s streak that would survive the Friday night contest.

Foul shots

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A jump ball violation against New York set the tone for a night of whistles. Connecticut leads all WNBA team in offensive pace (84.8 possessions per game) and the Liberty are third overall (81.5% possessions per game). Connecticut committed 25 personal fouls and New York committed 20.

“We couldn’t find any offensive rhythm to spark us,” said Connecticut head coach and GM Curt Miller. “I certainly think we missed shots we’re capable of making … our tempo needs to be better and we need to screen better.”

Despite nearly 20 free-throw attempts per team, neither shot well from the line.  New York had a slight advantage in free-throw percentage, sinking 19 of 29 shots for a 65.5% free throw average. The Sun shot 64.3% from the line.

Bench points

Both Miller and Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer were pleased with their bench players tonight.  Rookie Brionna Jones played a career-high 15 minutes tonight, only Alex Bently saw more time from the bench.  She collected five rebounds and a steal against New York and got high praise from her coach, “Brionna Jones looked like a first-round draft pick tonight. [She] kept the ball alive when nobody else was keeping balls alive.”

Sun veteran Jasmine Thomas also sang Jones’ praises, “It just so happened today that [Jonquel Jones] was in foul trouble and she had to play and she made the most of those minutes … she was just very, very active.” Jones went scoreless in the contest and the Sun got 13 points from the reserves.

The Liberty also had solid bench performances by Sugar Rodgers and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe.  Rodgers shot 50% from the 3-point arc to lead all bench players with 13 points.  “The performances we got from Nayo was phenomenal and Sugar made the big shots,” said Laimbeer. Raincock-Ekunwe went 6-10 at the free throw line and 3-5 from the floor for a career-high 12 points. Allen added four points, three assists, and five defensive rebounds on the night. Overall, New York got 33 points from the bench.

Tina Charles was questionable for tonight’s game with lower back tightness. “I didn’t know if I was gonna play tonight,” said the All-Star forward, “they said I could stay home but I didn’t want to.” Despite a slow start, Charles posted 18 of her game-leading 24 points in the second quarter, “I know my individual success does a lot for my team so I’m always in attack mode, anytime I can be.”

Charles could be seen applying a heating pad throughout the game. Overall, tonight was about pulling even with Connecticut in the season series and gaining positive momentum in the final turn before the playoffs.  The Liberty showed grit tonight – perhaps enough where Charles can mildly decrease her output in the hopes that she enters the playoffs healthy.

The road ahead

Both teams expressed tonight was a needed result.  For Connecticut, the loss served as a reminder that the playoffs will be anything but business as usual. “We needed this [so much] I can’t explain it,” said Miller.  The Sun is a young team and five seasons removed from the programs last playoff appearance.  Connecticut has clinched a playoff berth but hopes to claim the second seed and a two-round bye. Tonight’s loss leaves them two games behind Los Angeles with seven more to play.

“It’s time for us to really pay attention to [the] details,” said Thomas who reached 2,000 career point tonight. “Some night’s [our game] will be heavily scouted and it’s not going to be there, so how can we still put the ball in the basket? How can we still be aggressive and get to the line doing something different?”

New York is riding a four game winning streak and hoping to lock up a top four seed and earn a first round bye.  “This is another big game,” said Laimbeer, “Not so much because it’s Connecticut, it’s just that it was an important game for standings.”

The Liberty and Washington are both 16-12 for the season with one more head-to-head left. The two team each have a game in hand, the August 25 game at Madison Square Garden will give the winner an advantage, should the team remain tied at the conclusion of the regular season.

New York has shown the most improvement on offense. Again, Laimbeer noted offensive movement and screens as a positive. An explosion of scoring from the bench also helped on a night where neither team shot their best from the line. “We’re just gelling,” said Rodgers. “We finally [feel] like we’re just turning a corner,” Rodgers added post game.

Both teams return to action at home on Sunday. New York will host the Minnesota Lynx who toppled Indiana 111-52, despite being without Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson.  The Connecticut Sun will face Phoenix at home for the second time this season.