A heartbreaking end to a fascinating first game
WHITE PLAINS, NY — In their season opener, The New York Liberty suffered a one-point loss at the hands of the Indiana Fever. Rookie Teaira McGowan’s buzzer-beating layup off the quick pass from Candice Dupree sealed the 81-80 victory for Indiana. With newly hired Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in attendance at the Westchester County Center on Friday night, this nail-biter raised more questions than answers for Katie Smith’s Liberty.
This team has a lot of talented weapons, but how do they use them efficiently? Tina Charles dropped 32 points, but how can some of the load be taken off her shoulders? How long will it take for New York’s 2019 Draft picks to be effective? Who will lead defensively? And how will their mental dexterity improve going down the stretch in games?
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“To fight that hard to come up short is tough, but we’ll lace em’ up against them down in their place next week,” Smith said in her postgame presser. “We’ll keep getting better. The effort was solid. I wish we were a little more consistent throughout the game.”
Turnovers. Less than ideal matchups on defense. Missed open shots.
All of the above examples are adjustments that can be made. All hope shouldn’t be lost. Not only does New York have new ownership, but a new fight song called “Liberty Loud”, written and performed by Grammy-nominated artist Rapsody.
While we wait for that track to drop on Spotify, here’s what I took away from the Liberty’s 2019 season opener.
Tina Charles and Kia Nurse’s rapport is developing
Tina Charles leads the Liberty, and that’s not a new narrative. Her 32-12 double-double shows that the attack flows through her direction and tempo. In the first quarter, however, it was discernable that Charles leaned on Nurse and allowed her to find her shot and place it. Nurse and Charles looked like a unit on the court. And in the first quarter, their communication gave New York an early ten-point lead.
Katie Smith referenced the labors Kia Nurse put into her offseason. Sharpening her pick and rolls was a focus. Her vigor to find an open lane was noticeable, sinking two threes in the first quarter. It was apparent that her sophomore campaign will be about establishing herself as a scorer.
“For me personally when I first got here, Tina was somebody who took me under her wing,” Nurse said about her relationship with Charles. “I think it’s a great understanding of knowing when to give her the ball, when she wants it, where she wants it, where she’s most effective. We have a good understanding of that, which we developed through practice.”
While Nurse took more risks offensively and looked like a more developed player, she had difficulty guarding Tiffany Mitchell in the second half, as Indiana’s guard scored 22 points off the bench.
Rebecca Allen Provides More as a Starter
At the game’s start, Rebecca Allen was on. In the first two minutes in the first, she collected a block, steal and a defensive rebound. Smith’s decision to start her proved that the can have an immediate impact. Allen was given a little under twenty minutes of time on the court in 2019’s season opener versus a mere four minutes the year before.
“I thought she was aggressive,” Smith said on Allen. “We got her in a post a little bit when she had an undersized person on her. We are trying to use her in ways, but she’s also very active on the boards and defensively, which is also helpful.”
The small forward accounted for half of New York’s defensive production, accumulating two blocks and steals apiece. But with 2:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, Allen tied the game up at 78 with a key three. Her production followed with another block and two offensive boards in the final two minutes.
“A big part of my role is to knock down those shots, but to be honest with you I was really thinking about rebounding and defense today,” Allen said on her performance. “The less I think about the shooting, the better my game. It’s defense first, rebounding as well.”
Durr and Gray Can Take the Pressure Off Charles
A question that went unanswered for New York in 2018 was who is going to step up when Charles needs a rest. After falling into a ten-point deficit with nine minutes left to play in the third quarter, The Liberty was dealt these same cards in their season opener.
New York reclaimed the lead, however, with help from the first-round draft pick Asia Durr and veteran Reshanda Gray. Indiana’s defense loosened, giving Durr some space to step up and nail two key field goals.
“She’s kind of un-wavered,” Smith said on Durr. “She doesn’t get real bothered by a whole lot. She knows what she’s doing. She’s comfortable and has the confidence that the next one’s going in.”
Gray put up six second-chance points within the closing minutes of the third. Momentum shifted for New York when Durr knocked down a jumper. Following Durr’s missed free throw, Gray retrieved the ball to extend the drive and finished with a putback to get New York within one.
But, with 38 seconds remaining in regulation, Charles took a jump shot and missed. The shot was premature and founded in a lack of options in her supporting core. A switch had flipped and the spark found in the third dismantled too soon. New York can’t have that narrative continue. Veteran Center Amanda Zahui B can’t turn the ball over five times.
Fighting until the literal last second and walking away with a loss leaves a sting, and I expect that a rematch against Indiana in a week’s time will prove to be an advantage.
Nurse pointed out that the first game of the season is always the toughest. She noted that there are definitely some adjustments that she has to make before the rematch against Indiana.
“I gotta watch the film first and then I’ll let you know,” she said when asked about what specifically needs fine tuning. The hope is she won’t have to let me know. The hope is, I’ll see it next week.
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