The Streaking Liberty produced season-highs on both sides of the ball shooting 46.2 percent from the field and enforcing 13 takeaways
WHITE PLAINS, NY — New York had three out of five starters shoot over 60 percent from the field in a 75-69 win over Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx. The Liberty were able to take advantage of a turnover-prone Lynx team, earning ten points off Minnesota’s 21 TOs.
Kia Nurse scored 26 points, leading her team in scoring for the first time this season. The ju-ju was in her favor and that could have been due to a constant presence from a young duo stanning Nurse all game long. More on Nurse and her perky fan club later.
“It does speak a lot for us that we have other people knocking down shots and people being aggressive,” head coach Katie Smith said. “You know, reading the defense better and having those opportunities and finding those folks. And that depth that we have scoring is huge, something that we wanna continue to build off of and make sure that every single person has confidence in what they’re doing.”
In the latest edition of which legendary post player will the Liberty have to battle it out against, Wednesday evening’s challenge was against Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. New York held the 11 year veteran to only 16 points.
“Our bigs have been incredible from the beginning from the season,” Nurse said. “Having some of the toughest matchups that there are and really slowing them down and allowing us guards to have a little bit of opportunity to help as much as possible. But, Zahui and Tina have been absolutely incredible, and Gray as well. Gray has been fire.”
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
While Reshanda Gray didn’t put up any points, she still grabbed five boards, remained a hustler and a playmaker in the paint. Katie Smith believes she can guard “anybody in the gym” and based on Wednesday’s performance, she’s not wrong. Nurse felt Gray’s presence especially when she was lobbed a pass outside of the key with around eight minutes left in regulation. Gray was triple teamed under the rim, and after many pivots, she found Nurse open. Her ensuing jumper was nothing but net.
Defensive ringleader Tanisha Wright kept New York on pace, setting up Asia Durr’s fluid shot off transition. She and fellow point guard Brittany Boyd tacked on a combined six steals. The Brian Agler school of defense paid off.
Nurse and Durr explode on offense
The Liberty’s two Jordan brand ambassadors were definitely “like Mike” on Wednesday night.
We’ve seen Asia Durr’s smooth jump shot and ability to fly off transition in spurts, but against Minnesota, it became a cornerstone to New York’s success. In the first half, she was efficient shooting 7-for-10 and more importantly appeared comfortable.
While Durr scored 20 total points, she was actually far from satisfied. “No, not at all,” she said when asked about if she was happy with her defense. “I’m not doing something right. I don’t want to let my team down. I’m focused on that. Yes we had a great team win and yes, I played pretty good, but defense right now is key for me. Coming from college now to playing pro ball is different. Everybody’s good. There’s no weak link now.”
Others saw Durr differently. As the rookie trotted back to the locker room after her first win on the court, a group of little boys called her name out. At the first cry of her name, she hi-fived the young people down a line. But as she turned another corner to disappear from her fans, she heard another young boy call her name. She turned, flashed him a smile and pointed right at him, acknowledging his presence.
While on the subject of young people, Nurse had a dynamic duo standing on the stairs of the lower seating carrying two posters with her name plastered on it. Wearing Lady Liberty green Nurse jerseys, the two tween girls held signs that were adorned with the phrases: “Proud to be a Canadian”and “Have no fear Kia is here.”
Nurse knocked down18 of her 26 points in the second half, only missing two of her eight shots in the last two quarters. Assisted by four different teammates, Nurse communicated well while also opening up her own opportunities. Her transformation between her rookie and sophomore seasons has been immense. We knew she got more aggressive on both sides of the ball, but on Wednesday we saw a balanced hybrid of Nurse, one who can hustle and produce points in large quantities.
“Kia is the same Kia,” Durr said when asked about her teammate’s performance in the locker room. “She plays hard every game. She always runs hard. I know what I’m going to get from her. She plays hard every game. She doesn’t let up on both ends of the floor, on offense and defense. I’m super proud.”
Amanda Zahui B is the rising phoenix
To say that New York will miss Zahui B when she leaves for Eurobasket in a week is at this point a grand understatement. The Liberty’s center racked up a 15-13 double-double, pounding the paint with not only rebounds but with three steals and two blocks as well.
Head coach Katie Smith described her performance as someone “who is creating a lot of havoc” on both sides of the ball. “She’s challenged herself to crash and be a rebounder on every single possession,” she said. “I think I’ve said it before, I think it takes an extreme amount of energy to crash on every possession, something I would not do, but I think it is something that she’s bought into.
The Swedish star was incredibly efficient on Wednesday as well. She shot 5-for-8 and was able to bank one of three from outside the arc. I asked her after the game how she has stayed resilient after having to match up against the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Liz Cambage and Fowles all in a row.
“Tanisha [Wright] has really been harping on that it’s my fifth year and I’ve gotta play like a vet,” she said. “The team needs me on the floor and not on the bench. And I’m going to make mistakes, but if I can learn from them as quick as possible. And also I get great help from my teammates. I play against Tina every day in practice.”
While Zahui B is leaving New York in a week, I don’t think it will be easy for her. This team is in her heart and soul. While her coach was in her postgame press conference, the Liberty center strutted down the hallway, interrupted the presser and shouted from the hall, “Go Katie!”
Locked-in Liberty stressed defense and will continue to do the same on West coast trip
Besides worrying about containing Fowles, there was a focus on how to shut down Lynx sensation Napheesa Collier. New York had a slight advantage as lead scorer Nurse has three years of playing experience alongside the forward. She gave her teammates the rookie’s tendencies, and now that the script had switched, and Nurse was ready for it.
“When you play against people that you’ve played with for so long and you know what they like to do,” she said. “It’s weird because for three years I’ve been like, I’m going to put you where you’re going to be successful and we’re going to get a basket. And know I’m like I don’t want you to be where you’re going to be successful and going to get a basket. I think it obviously was a team effort. Whoever got switched on her did a great job as well.”
Asia Durr cited that the game plan was to make her fellow rookie think and stay in the gap. Coach Smith concurred acknowledging how air-tight her defense kept Minnesota in the paint.
“Obviously not allowing [Collier] space and giving her wide open shots,” Smith said. “And then just putting pressure on her. Not allowing her to rebound, get boads, run the floor and post up guards. I think everybody else as a team was engaged and understanding what they were looking for. I definitely emphasized that and I thought they did a good job of executing that.”
Smith sees defense as an integral component to continuing to have a shot at winning ballgames. She has spread that gospel to her players, especially the youngest. “We’ve got to have each other’s back,” rookie Durr said. “Standing in the gap. It’s not one on one, its five on five. It’s playing on a team.”
The Liberty last beat the Lynx on August 20, 2017 in New York. In 2018, New York couldn’t get it done against Reeve and her squad. So what did she think changed a year later?
“I think the group has been together,” Reeve said following the game. “I think Zahui B’s role increasing has given her a lot of confidence. I think it gives them something extra. But I think the team’s a lot the same. You know Tanisha Wright is back. I think they are running the same things. They are running it the same way. I just think they are really comfortable with themselves.”
Reeve is spot on. The chemistry on this team has translated from the locker room to the court. You can see it in this embrace between Durr and Zahui B. Alongside them, Injured Rebecca Allen is all smiles.
Speaking of Allen, she provided moral support sitting out with a white wrapping around her hand that looked like a tiny boxing glove. They don’t call it a boxer’s fracture for nothing. Her injury to the 3rd metacarpal bone on her right hand was sustained in Tuesday’s practice on a collision with one of the male practice players. According to trainer Theresa Acosta, her injury is non-operative and she will be re-evaluated in two weeks time.
Allen’s prospects for returning are ambiguous at this moment as it’s all contingent on how quickly the fracture heals on its own. She could be out for a month or she could be out for over two months. When asked about adding outside help, Katie Smith mentioned that her team isn’t able to consider that yet with 10 players on the active roster. Though she acknowledged that once Amanda Zahui B leaves for Eurobasket on the 20th, Smith may be open revisiting those options.
While New York was able to convert Minnesota’s lost possessions into points, the Liberty will continue to strive toward cutting down TOs of their own. In order to be successful in this weekend’s West coast trip against Las Vegas and Los Angeles, 17 turnovers won’t fly.
“Run the floor and keep the turnovers low,” said Zahui B when asked about her goals for the upcoming road trip. “We are just playing very good team basketball at the moment. It’s just everybody moving the ball, extra passes, doing the small things right. So keep on building on that.”
Katie Smith knows the upcoming weekend out West won’t be easy. She thinks Vegas will be like “walking into a beehive” and she’s probably right. But that doesn’t mean her team can’t handle a sting or two.
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.