Three Takeaways: Liberty defeat Mystics for 7th consecutive win

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Epiphanny Prince
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Epiphanny Prince /

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The New York Liberty entered Friday’s contest in fourth place, just a half game ahead of the Washington Mystics in the standings. The winner of Friday’s game would gain ground in the hunt for fourth, while also claiming the rights to the season series two games over one. Elena Delle Donne made her return just in time for an important match up as both teams prepare for the playoffs. Here are three takeaways from the 74-66 Liberty win.

Offensive improvements

The Liberty have improved pace with Bria Hartley at the helm.  New York is 10-3 since placing the UConn guard into the starting lineup, “she pushes the ball better for us and we get easier baskets in transition,” said New York head coach Bill Laimbeer. Additionally, with Hartley running point, Epiphanny Prince is free to find her shot.  She tied the game lead in points with 20 buckets.

Tina Charles scoring 20 points in a game is hardly new. Likely one reason Charles was more excited about what her contributions to other shooters than her own stats line. “Everybody is playing their role,” said Charles post game.  For her, that included recognizing the double team and feeding shooters like Prince and Shavonte Zellous (18 points) “That’s what it’s all about for me,” said Charles.

Playoff mentality

The Liberty came in expecting a good result against Washington. The team carried a playoff mentality into Friday night, and for good reason. Having possession over the tiebreak with Washington is key, “We really wanna look at that bye and skip that first round and we put ourselves in good position, but there’s still a lot of basketball to be had,” Laimbeer said.

Part of that mentality meant not dwelling on the past results. In this case, the Liberty needed to focus on earning the advantage of the head-to-head with Washington, as opposed to their six (now seven) game winning streak.  “We weren’t really thinking about the streak,” said center Kiah Stokes. Charles encouraged her teammates to focus on playing their role. Defense is the driving force for this New York team and Stokes is an integral part in collecting defensive rebounds. She finished the night with six rebounds and one steal.

Maturing at the right time

There have been more than a fair share of concerns from this relatively young Liberty team, but the players are beginning to smooth the roughness exhibited early in the season.  “There were points in the game where we all did what we were supposed to do,” said Stokes.

Still, the players felt tonight exposed an ever-nagging challenge for the team, consistency.  The Liberty have proven they can close out a game in the fourth quarter.  The team is now 10-0 when leading in the fourth quarter.

However, the team must be careful not to dig a hole early in games, especially as the playoffs roll around. Prince wants to see the team more aggressively set the tone of the game early, “When we’re not making shots in the beginning [of the game], it affects our defense,” said Prince. She wants to see New York play its game from out the gate and not sway to the pace of their opponent.

New York will take on Chicago at home on Sunday. Chicago is currently on the outside looking in, but looking to ride to momentum from their win over Connecticut. A win Sunday will help New York secure a bye, while Chicago is looking to pass Dallas for the final postseason spot. Tip-off is Sunday at 3 pm ET at Madison Square Garden.