The Liberty took major leaps against the Sparks, but couldn’t quite finish
WHITE PLAINS, NY — With 15.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Tina Charles fired a putback layup off Asia Durr’s missed three-ball and suddenly New York was within three of Los Angeles before the end of regulation. In that moment, history was made. After one foul and two missed threes later, history was distant. It was an afterthought rather than a catalyst.
But according to head coach Katie Smith, the Liberty’s performance against the Sparks was “night and day” in comparison to Saturday’s showing at Indiana. “I felt like we had a little more energy and we wanted it a little more,” power forward Reshanda Gray said.
More from New York Liberty
- Marina Johannes: Put some respect on her name
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 22: UConn settles with women’s basketball coaches
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 12: Sabrina Ionescu is ready to ball
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 28: All-Rookie team announced
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 10: Dream are (mathematically) stayin’ alive
New York’s 78-73 loss to the Sparks at home isn’t representative of where this team is now versus where they were on May 24 when they lost by a mere point when the last buzzer beat.
Throughout 40 minutes of play, both teams battled through 12 lead changes and nine ties. “Best effort of the season out of the three games,” Smith said in a postgame presser. “I thought we were locked in defensively and I thought offensively we had people who were aggressive.”
New York’s defense was locked in behind Amanda Zahui B and Brittany Boyd
Against Indiana on Saturday, New York’s defense under the rim vanished into thin air. The question going into Tuesday was who would be its great conjurer. Who had the tricks up her sleeve?
Cue Amanda Zahui B, who finished the afternoon with six blocks and 12 rebounds. After reaching a new career high in blocks within a single game, something had shifted for the five-year veteran, who had been previously plagued by costly turnovers.
In 2019, Head Coach Katie Smith decided to start Zahui B, a role the New York center was unfamiliar with. In a postgame conversation with her, she made it clear that this opportunity wasn’t handed to her. For Zahui B, the key to excelling in her new role was owning it.
“Once I play with confidence, everything comes easier,” she said. “I lock in doing the small things and it comes naturally.”
Adding on four steals, point guard Brittany Boyd also emerged as a defensive workhorse. By charging the lane, her agile approach proved to be a nice defensive complement to the forcefulness of Zahui B.
Charles sparred with Ogwumike and then became New York’s All-Time leading scorer
Before Tina Charles landed the layup that crowned her as the Liberty’s all-time franchise scoring leader, the five-time WNBA All-Star faced off in an epic battle of the power forwards against current WNBA Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike.
While Charles had the offensive edge over Ogwumike, the 2016 league MVP swiped the ball from New York three times, including once off Charles.
With a little under three minutes remaining in the first half, Charles found herself trying to do too much with the ball in the paint. In an attempt to advance the ball, she collided with Ogwumike and was charged with a flagrant foul.
“They are both smart and savvy and they make each other work,” Smith said on the matchup. “I thought both of them competed well and helped their teams in a variety of ways. It’s fun to see two vets and two players of that caliber figure it out and impose their will on the game and on each other.”
Now back to Charles’ franchise record. When Smith was asked about her star forward’s accomplishment, she acknowledged the significance of Charles’ connection to the city of New York. And hours following the loss, Charles posted on Instagram about her latest feat.
“Thankful for the opportunity to represent my city,” she wrote.
But according to Smith, Charles really just wants to win. And starting a season 0-3 nullifies if not softens the significance of the record. When asked in the presser how Smith consoles Charles through these early season frustrations, New York’s Head Coach referenced a “trust in the process.”
“You have to trust the process and do it on a daily basis to build,” she said. “I just keep telling her you have to keep showing up because it’s on you, it’s your legacy both individually and as a team of how you go about your business on a day to day.”
Reshanda Gray and New York look to “trust the process” moving forward
Reshanda Gray’s narrative this season continues to charm and fascinate us. How does the latest chapter in her story unfold? Against the Sparks, more of the same as Gray shot 4-6 while notching 12 points.
According to Gray, in order to understand Coach Smith’s “trust the process” mantra, all I have to do is google her name. “I am a walking definition of trusting the process,” she said. “I have my trials. The past two years I got waived. And I trust the process, stay true to who I am and kept working hard and now I made the roster.”
Teammate Amanda Zahui B casually called her a “beast.”
“Seeing her coming off the bench and being that sixth man that has that energy that we kind of been lacking,” she said. “She has that extra fire to her. I love it and I’m so happy. It makes me so happy to see her be successful not just overseas.”
Zahui B is correct, Gray ignites a gritty style of play that simultaneously gets the job down while taking some pressure off Charles, who also believes Gray is incredibly dedicated. “She’s the first one in the gym…she asks a lot of questions, and pays attention to detail,” Charles said.
But in light of Gray’s resurgence and resilience, she had some difficulty nailing all of her free throws against LA. Missed free throws and blocked shots in the fourth were what held New York from victory number one. Not to mention Kia Nurse’s struggles defending Chelsea Gray, who scored a career-high 29 points on just 10 shots.
“We gotta trust the process,” Zahui B said. “Because if we don’t trust the process, we give up and we don’t want to give up[…] We trust the process because we believe in each other, we believe in Katie, in the staff, and we believe in ourselves. ”
The Liberty shot 39.7 percent from the field on Tuesday afternoon. That’s an improvement from Saturday against the Fever, they’ve got their ways to go.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.