Tina Charles double-double, 26 from Nurse, Bonner contained
To the city of Pheonix’s dismay, the New York Liberty weren’t affected by any early signs of Mercury in retrograde. And I mean this quite literally as the planet is expected to start the process on Sunday.
The Liberty’s torch has caught fire as New York whipped out the 80-76 win and closed out their road trip undefeated, improving to 4-3 when playing outside of the Westchester County Center. Aside from a physical and efficient 30-point performance from five-time All-Star Brittney Griner, the Mercury struggled to control the tempo and gave up 15 fast break points to the Liberty.
New York out-rebounded Phoenix 35-27 and scored 38 points in the paint to the Mercury’s 26, which in light of Griner’s numbers is surprising. Kia Nurse said this was a testament to the Liberty’s bigs. “They are fearless down there,” she said after the win. “We put people in positions where they can be successful and depending on what they like to do. Obviously, Tina is a low block back to the basket kind of fade away. We try to do what we can to make sure that everyone has their best place to be successful.”
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
The reliance on one superstar trope used to belong to the Liberty, but in this contest, the tides turned and these teams swapped places. Was it literally “Freaky Friday”?
But if we’ve learned anything from this road trip, maybe New York is starting to outgrow their initial approach. Maybe they are indeed the Phoenix reborn on the fastbreak?
Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello remarked after the contest that although this wasn’t her team’s best performance, New York has found a groove. “That’s a good team and they’re playing well together,” she said. “They have two All-Stars and they have players that complement each other.”
Hopefully, Brondello has a crystal ball because as I’ve mentioned, Wednesday and now Friday night’s performances only elevate Charles and Nurse’s cases for Vegas. Speaking of predictions, I made a few going into this one. And one in particular came true. While we didn’t get to see Han Xu battle Griner, this game was a sleeper. Not many expected it to be more compelling than the matchup between the Mystics and the Aces.
But in this battle to move up in the league standings, it was all about who could quiet offensive production while staying vivacious running the floor. While it might not have been as explosive offensively as I predicted, scoring production still mattered.
There were a ton of parallels for New York in the way in which they finished this game versus the showing in Seattle. But the Liberty expanded and improved on some of their weaker executions, especially on defense.
What was consistent against the Mercury?
Tina Charles and Kia Nurse understand each other’s strengths and how they can be effective on the court.
For the second straight game, this duo finished with over 20 points apiece. What’s significant about Charles racking up a 23-12 double-double is she was still able to delegate some of her energy on defense to take on Griner and Bonner. She’s continuing to see the floor with more clarity as she poked more holes, especially on a floating hook shot on top of three defenders. She finished the evening joining the 3,000 rebound club and her double-double puts her 3rd on the all-time list, trailing Sylvia Fowles and Lisa Leslie.
Nurse was the most accurate starter from the field on both squads. Her 26 points were shot on a 72 percent field goal performance. But Nurse was also exceptional on defense, which I will return to. “Obviously what Tina [Charles] does very well is different from what I do very well,” Nurse said on their performances against the Mercury. “Being able to put her in positions where she can be successful, which is pretty much anywhere on the court, is very helpful. But when teams kind of have to double team her and really focus on her, it gives me an opportunity to have a lot of time and space as well and vise-versa.”
New York’s defense struggled at first to contain Griner, allowing the center 19 first-half points. Reshanda Gray and even Charles dealt with some foul trouble. After receiving her third foul in the second quarter, Charles refused to take a seat on the bench. She waved at Katie Smith, signaling that she’s got it. She did not budge from the floor.
Without Amanda Zahui B, matching up against Griner was bound to be a load. But, just like against Seattle, Gray didn’t stop trying. She didn’t give up, and some help from Avery Warley-Talbert and Charles allowed Gray to once again get the last laugh at the end. Gray was physical enough and Griner couldn’t get enough of an arc on her final fadeaway that bounced off the rim.
But not only Gray battled during the game against Phoenix, as New York were the comeback kids once again. The Liberty battled back from as many as 13 points in the first quarter. In the third, still down by seven points, Tiffany Bias drilled a clutch 3-pointer to get within two scores. In addition to Bias, the bench added a total of 16 points. Tanisha Wright nailed key shots from long, going 2-for-3 from three and Warley-Talbert had two key O-boards, including a put-back.
But, what shifted against Phoenix?
Head Coach Katie Smith was pleased with not only the bench’s presence but with her team’s defensive performance.
“Overall I think everybody, when their number was called, was able to step up,” Smith said. “But, I thought our defensive pressure and intensity really swayed the game and got us back where we needed to be.”
New York’s perimeter defense had a field day with DeWanna Bonner, who coming into Friday was leading the league in scoring. Now she and Charles are tied for that mantel at 19.2 points per game.
Kia Nurse contained Bonner, not giving her much space to fire off a jumper or a three ball. The two-time WNBA champion didn’t pass double figures going 3-13 from the field. Nurse did her homework and anticipated passes going Bonner’s way. In addition to her work on the Mercury’s power forward, Nurse added two blocks on two pull-up jump shots from Leilani Mitchell and Briann January.
“I thought the first quarter they dictated, our defense wasn’t real assertive,” Smith said postgame. “Second quarter I thought we got ourselves right back in the ball game and third and fourth quarter it was just a knockout, drag out. But I thought our defense overall got us this win tonight.”
Asia Durr was a major contributor to the third quarter “knockout” for New York. In the third, she added six out of her total ten points, going 3-4 from the field. Night-Night took her signature pull-up J over Griner and she couldn’t do anything about it. Not only was the rookie more aggressive within the arc, but Durr also expressed more confidence on defense.
Durr looked confident in her abilities in transition, and she made sure that she exploded off each of her defensive rebounds, both of which came in the second half.
Four of a Kind for New York
The wins on the West Coast were cousins or maybe even siblings. They related and built on each other. But after Friday night, we learned that four is a special number for this 2019 Liberty roster.
- FOUR players are competing in the EuroBasket
- New York beat the Mercury by FOUR
- Their win streak extends to FOUR
- The Liberty jump FOUR spots in the overall league standings
Working from 9 to 5 isn’t too shabby, as New York sits right below the 8-6 Minnesota Lynx. And not to mention that this team started out its season 0-4.
Now on one day of rest, the Liberty return home to face the Aces. Will snake eyes strike New York against Vegas again in their season series finale against Bill Laimbeer’s squad? Or will this new found consistency which includes setting a tempo early and giving Tina Charles some flexibility keep the Liberty’s torch lit?
New York’s first win came against the Aces on June 9th. If the Liberty were to extend their win streak to five on Sunday, this would be the first win to put them over .500 for the first time since 2017.
“It is going to be flying back from the west coast and seeing those guys Las Vegas Aces,” Smith said. “But we will take tomorrow off and get out minds right on Sunday and give it a go, it is going to be a battle but every single night in this league. But, I hope these guys are excited about getting back on the floor and we will jump it up and see what happens.”
Whether Mercury’s July bout in retrograde has an effect or if Friday night was the closest thing we’ll ever get to the events of a Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis movie, one thing’s for sure, the Liberty have assumed form.
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.