New York’s Defense held Elena Delle Donne but that wasn’t enough
WHITE PLAINS— In the first quarter, the Liberty outscored the Mystics 26-20. At last New York had ignited Lady Liberty’s torch. With a ten point lead over the Mystics and two minutes left in the first, Tina Charles was already in double figures. But flash forward to under two minutes remaining in the fourth, and a switch had flipped. The torch had lost some of its luster. Washington led by ten at that moment and wouldn’t look back as New York fell 94-85 at home.
With the highest scoring performance of the regular season for the Liberty, what altered the trajectory of their early success against a Veteran Mystics team? New York’s tempo changed. They got too comfortable while Washington simultaneously knocked down more shots.
“When we are playing a fast tempo, that really helps us,” guard Bria Hartley said. “So if our defense is good and we are getting stops, we are able to get out and run. In the second half, they really started to hit some shots. And when they’re hitting shots, it’s hard to rebound and run, so it slows the game down a little bit.”
Washington guard Natasha Cloud shot 60 percent from the floor, putting 26 points on the board. Head Coach Katie Smith cited that Cloud took advantage of “switches” on defense, allowing for Cloud to drain some weak-side buckets. “We just need to be better about our decision making,” she said. “So that they can take more contested shots and not get to the rim.”
On the other hand, New York forced two shot clock violations in the third and held Elena Delle Donne to 13 total points while blocking two of her jump shots. While Hartley was encouraged by Washington’s shot clock turnovers, she noted that her team handed Washington too many second chances on offense.
Charles and Rebecca Allen had one block a piece on the five-time All-Star as Delle Donne only took two free throws from the line. “I think, partly, Tina had a really good game tonight defensively,” Smith said. “I thought our other bigs were in, a lot of attention was focused on her [Elena], making her earn it, we didn’t give her too many offensive boards and didn’t put her to the free throw line too often.”
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Tina Charles leads best when she doesn’t try to do it all
Aside from preventing Delle Donne from doing major damage, Charles scored 27 points on 6 boards. She was the most efficient we’ve seen her all season, shooting an even 50 percent from the field.
A narrative that haunts New York is who will take the pressure off the former MVP and Rookie of the Year. While some indicators this season have leaned toward the contributions of other bigs Reshanda Gray and Amanda Zahui B, against Washington however, four other teammates joined Charles in scoring double figures.
Bria Hartley stepped up in the fourth quarter in a gritty performance off the bench. In the fourth alone, she scored seven points, provided two assists and two rebounds a piece, and tacked on a steal. In total, she notched 14 points while shooting 40 percent from the field, which included knocking down a pair of threes and a smooth finger roll layup.
“I think I was a lot more aggressive in this game, and I want to make sure I carry that into the next game,” Hartley said.
Allen was given a go at taking more shots on Friday night. In the second quarter, she rose to the occasion and scored 10 points in two minutes, including two three balls on assists from Kia Nurse and Charles. Allen’s contributions came on the other side of the ball as well, notching three blocks and four boards.
“I think there’s times where we can control the tempo,” Charles said. “I think there’s times when we can set up. I think we did that with Rebecca Allen when we were able to set up. I know it’s one of the things that Katie wants, us to be an opportunistic team. To take what defense gives us.”
New York’s two youngest starters Asia Durr and Kia Nurse each reached beyond ten points as well. Nurse drilled both of her three balls and shot an even 50 percent overall. In addition to four steals on her end, Durr’s 11 point performance included a couple of pullup jump shots and quick layups on transition. Pretty soon we’ll be calling that jump shot a Durr signature.
But the concern with these two is how will they stay out of foul trouble. Both drew four personal fouls a piece, seven coming in the second half. In her sophomore campaign, Nurse has become more aggressive, and it’s noticeable, but there’s got to be a balance.
“Part of it is positioning, part of it is being smart, part of it is anticipating what’s happening,” Katie Smith said when asked about Durr and Nurse’s foul troubles. “We try to tell them a lot, it doesn’t matter when you’ve got your person passing the ball. And your person doesn’t have it, it doesn’t stop. You are always engaged, you can’t take a break.”
While their record might communicate otherwise, New York can compete
Watching the Liberty fall once again isn’t trifling, it’s actually quite frustrating. Most of these losses have been a result of competitive games. This young core is learning how to finish.
Coach Smith doesn’t want the league to rule her team out. She also doesn’t want her team to rule themselves out. This message has clearly spread to Charles. When asked how important it is to notch that first win, she didn’t balk.
“It’s extremely important,” she said. “You know especially to keep our confidence up. Especially for this young group. So just trying to keep the way we carry our energy. Just trying to keep them believing[…] that we just need to win one game and we’ll just get on a roll.”
New York is hungry for a win. Could it come against a familiar face? Bill Laimbeer and his coaching staff were in attendance on Friday night in preparation for the Aces’ matchup with the Liberty on Sunday. The preparation will be different for Las Vegas. Katie Smith expects that there will be less “stretching the floor” and more “pounding” in the post.
The last time New York faced Liz Cambage, she scored 53 points, breaking a WNBA record. But, the Liberty doesn’t necessarily want to think about last year, as that won’t help earn a number in the win column.
“I try to not even think about last year,” Rebecca Allen said. “This is this year. I want to be present. And so getting a win will help the overall morale of the team and that’s obviously what we are aiming to do. But yeah, I’m not thinking about last season.”
Can the Liberty reduce turnovers and personal foul totals? (On Friday, they accumulated 17 TOs and 25 personals.)
How well will Katie Smith’s familiarity with a “Laimbeerian” system play a role on Sunday?
Will the home crowd continue to be in absolute awe over Han Xu? (There was a group of young girls seated in the upper deck who continued chanting her name. They asked her to wave once she graced the center of hardwood at the end of the fourth quarter.)
We wait only a day for these questions to be answered. Although, I think I can answer the last one. Absolutely.
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