Inconsistent improvement on the road in Dallas and in Phoenix
In the first quarter against the Mercury, two Liberty players looked alert and ready from the get-go. With those 15 points early, Charles is an obvious call, but while finishing the game scoreless, Marine Johannès channels her frustration beautifully.
Along with the rest of New York’s perimeter, Johannès struggled from the field and from beyond the arc. She had a couple of field goals and one three-ball against Dallas. That was it.
MJ isn’t just a shooter, but she’s a baller and those terms aren’t synonymous. The 24-year-old transformed into a helper on both sides of the ball. She turned her angsty and disappointed facial expressions into five assists (a season-high) and proved that she could defend one of the league’s leading scorers in Bonner.
With a little over seven minutes left in the second quarter, Johannès threw a sidearm dime of a pass to Reshanda Gray who had ample space to run, dribble and finish. Her second assist to Gray was an and-one. Gray also made all of her free throws against Phoenix.
Her defense transformed into successful offensive plays out of transition. Two of her passes to wide-open Gray and Nurse were orchestrated on steals from the French native. And while MJ couldn’t sock the ball away from Bonner successfully in the third quarter, she played cat and mouse with the three-time All-Star for 17 seconds straight. Her eyes didn’t leave Bonner. MJ got in her space, followed her under the rim into the weak side and then positioned her hands on the ball, almost pawing it. Johannès’ pawing and read of Bonner’s pump fake made her bobble the ball, forcing her to hoist it up as the shot clock expired.
From 4:53 to 4:36 in the third quarter, Johannès had Bonner’s number.
Against the Griner-less Mercury, Tanisha Wright put the guards on her back. She scored 18 points and took advantage of open looks when she knew the rest of her team besides Charles was shooting poorly from the field. Wright handled the ball much better against the Mercury, only committing one turnover. Consistency from Wright led to fewer turnovers from New York’s backcourt guard rotation.
“She has been great for us,” Katie Smith said on Sunday about her former teammate. “She understands that on certain nights she has to give us defense or maybe it is on offense. She picks her poison and is smart about the shots she gets but she was also being aggressive tonight. She really has been a mainstay for us and a steady force on both ends.”
Kia Nurse and Bria Hartley charging the lane must continue in light of inconsistent long ball shooting from both UConn-produced guards. For Nurse, if she continues to play through an elbow injury that had her hiding underneath a towel for a moment in against the Mercury in the third, she’ll have to continue to fight through the lane to put some points on the board. She has received open looks that just won’t go down. Some shots aren’t even close.
Against Dallas, both Nurse and Hartley got a combined 17 free throw attempts. That number dropped off in Phoenix and both guards scored a point below single digits. I expect both to continue to be aggressive. Nurse acknowledged that breaking through the lane and taking shots at the line is something that “gets [New York’s] energy going.”
“The lanes were very open,” Nurse said about the Dallas defense. “[laughs] You know, I was able to come off some of the ball screens. I was trying to listen to their chatter and their defensive talk and they were saying two different things, so I knew one was not doing the right thing and one was doing the right thing. So just trying to get into the lane and draw fouls and use my speed to my advantage.”