In search of their first win, New York can’t shoot under 35 percent
A week ago the New York Liberty had their season opener snatched in the eleventh hour, but on Saturday night, a first win never seemed within reach as New York fell to the Fever 77-92. The Liberty’s 34.7 field goal percentage hurt.
From the start, Indiana set its tempo. Their shots fell off multiple fast-break opportunities, taking an 11-0 lead after the first 2:30 minutes of play.
Whatever tempo the Liberty employed on Saturday night didn’t translate into baskets. Once they were down, they couldn’t get up. “Energy wasn’t good enough and we didn’t hit shots,” Head Coach Katie Smith said in a post-game presser. “[Indiana] hit shots and shot 60-something percent, so the first quarter literally was the ballgame.”
A week ago Tina Charles scored 32 points. A week later she moves to 15th on the WNBA all-time scoring list.
A week ago the Liberty jumped out to a 12-2 lead. A week later they scored 7 points in the first quarter.
A week ago New York fought hard until the end. Where was that fight a week later?
A lot can change in a week. But, here’s what didn’t; the Liberty outrebounded Indiana but turned the ball over 16 times. I’m not sure what’s worse, this constant amount of TOs, the final score or the fact that the state of New York couldn’t watch its team on League Pass until the third quarter.
Charles’ Offensive Struggles Dominoed
The Fever had had a mission coming into game 2 against the Liberty. How were they going to shut down Tina Charles, who scored a 32 point double-double in the season opener. Indiana lost to Connecticut on Tuesday while allowing Sun power forward Jonquel Jones to rack up 25 points while shooting over 60 percent from the field.
In this matchup, Indiana got their wish, holding Charles to 15 points on 17 total shots. Indiana played better defense, but Charles didn’t have her footing on Saturday night. She missed seven out of ten shots within the paint. Along with a few personal fouls and seven turnovers, Charles’ struggles translated to her teammates who had difficulty knocking down layups and threes.
Rebecca Allen came off the bench on Saturday and wasn’t able to nail the long-range shots she drilled back at home. Her hook shot from the left side of the paint was wide. While she fired two free throws, it was clear that Allen couldn’t be as effective off the bench. While it was necessary to give Asia Durr the starting role, Smith shouldn’t count out Allen’s production. New York could have used more defensive stops inside.
Kia Nurse shot an even 50 percent with 14 points, but that wasn’t enough. She had less opportunities to work with Charles. Also, point guard Brittany Boyd met no luck under the rim or outside of the arc.
Welcome to New York Han Xu
At 19 years old and at 6’9, Han Xu accrues daily references to Yao Ming who she cites as an inspiration. She represents how international relations can be a facet of professional sports. But as a teenage athlete playing for one of the media capitals of the world, how would she fare? How versatile could she be? What has she been working on in practice?
Xu checked in with a minute left in the third and shocked everyone when she nailed a three-ball off a pass from Nurse. In her second game, she looked less stiff and was able to take risks off of advantageous matchups. Her second bucket in a Liberty uniform came via Gray as Xu easily could tap it in against a 6’2″ Erica McCall.
With 36 seconds left in regulation, Xu made a jump shot at the top of the key. Watching it back, Bria Hartley’s defense on Stephanie Mavunga within the paint allowed Xu to fire the long two uncontested.
Durr returns to the mid-west and Gray Continues to step up
In New York’s season opener, I noted that both Durr and Gray’s contributions off the bench were crucial. Durr played the most minutes in New York’s first road game, as head coach Katie Smith had her start instead of Rebecca Allen.
The rookie played with a lot of energy for a crowd that misses her in Cardinal red. Without Charles on the court, Durr took matters into her own hands, attempting to pull this team up by its bootstraps all by her lonesome.
After draining a floater, Durr received a long pass off a Brittany Boyd steal with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. New York’s attempt to compete with Indiana’s transition offense didn’t quite ignite as with little defensive pressure from Tiffany Mitchell under the rim, Durr couldn’t get a layup to land. With four seconds left after nailing a free throw off a Fever technical foul, Durr tried to run a play with the help of fellow rookie Xu. Durr looked frazzled trying to drive the ball to the left side, but before she could fire a shot, the buzzer beat signaling the end of the third.
Saturday was Reshanda Gray’s birthday and off the bench, she nearly had a double-double. While shooting 5-9, she maintained focus while her team was struggling to nail shots.
“It’s all about knowing your job, and what’s your role on the team,” she said. “And I feel like one of the reasons why I’m here is because I bring the energy and I bring the aggressiveness. So I just try to stick to my job and just find ways that I can better help my team.”
Gray’s performance for New York this season is summed up by the numbers. Currently, her 62.5 percent field goal percentage is fifth-best league-wide. Gray is efficient. Her play isn’t intricate, but it’s far from languid.
Even if this is unconventional wisdom, I’m curious as to how Gray’s efficiency and competitiveness could work with Charles. While Durr continues to find her footing in her first year, I’d like to see more minutes that incorporate Gray’s strengths into Charles’ attack strategy. Gray keeps her head down. She’s a playmaker.
Frustration continues for Katie Smith in her sophomore campaign coaching New York. Smith wasn’t trying to mask her exasperation in Indiana on Saturday night. “You all better fight,” she said to her bench.
The fight appeared subdued from New York. Although, their points were well earned. Tina Charles’ record-setting layup in the fourth quarter came after two straight misses followed by her own offensive rebounds. Was Charles playing with herself? Did her subconscious tell her she HAD to make this bucket?
One may never know, but after watching the clip through a bunch of times, Charles was in her zone and that’s not necessarily a positive. Charles is best when she guides the unit rather than when she assumes its heavy burden. We saw this on display in the season opener, but because of a tighter Fever defensive front, Charles imploded in the paint right in front of the basket.
Both Tiffany and Kelsey Mitchell gave the New York defense trouble inside and outside the arc. The former Buckeye nailed 5 threes, while Tiffany charged the lane off the transition.
“We worked on defense all week, about our help-side and being in and ball pressure and getting into players, and at spurts we did that, but as a unit for 40 minutes we were not consistent enough,” Smith said.
Consistency remains a challenge for New York moving forward. Last week they couldn’t close, but on Saturday they couldn’t climb out of an early deficit. Can they get out of the trenches?
“You know, it’s still early in the season, we still got a lot of game so it’s all a learning process,” Gray said. “Even though we lost today, we got a lot of stuff that we can learn for the next game on Tuesday.”
They’ll have to figure out a way to do both on Tuesday when they face off against an L.A. Sparks team that might have found its footing under the guidance of the Ogwumike sisters.
Keith Geswein contributed reporting from Indianapolis.
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