Takeaways: Liberty break losing skid with victory over Fever

The long losing streak is over

Exactly one month since they experienced the joy of winning, the New York Liberty finally captured another victory — just the second in their past 13 games. They snapped an eight game losing streak by defeating the Indiana Fever 82-76 on a night that saw multiple offensive contributions and astute defensive plays made by New York’s stars down the stretch. The result evens out the two teams’ records at 9-18 apiece.

Several key takeaways and notes from this game are as follows:

The Liberty get a win, and alleviate some plaguing concerns

For coaches, players and fans, simply getting back into the win column warrants major sighs of relief. The Liberty were 7-7 after a win in Phoenix on July 5, but had since dropped 11 of 12 and eight in a row, including seven consecutive away from home. The late-season stretch of futility was resemblant of last season, when New York dropped thirteen in a row to close the year and eventually finished 20 games under .500. Although they had already guaranteed that they’d surpass their 2018 win total with their victory over the Sparks in July, a successful result in Indiana had to inject some direly-needed positivity into a slumping locker room.

“Just happy that we came out with a win,” Tina Charles said after the game. “We definitely needed it.”

Given that the Liberty jumped on the Fever from the tip, getting out to a 28-13 first quarter lead, New York had to scratch and claw to hold Indiana at arm’s length for the remainder of the contest.  This game was actually quite similar to New York’s past two in Dallas and Phoenix — both narrow losses. In Dallas, the Liberty led 75-74 with 53 seconds remaining before an Isabelle Harrison layup put the Wings ahead for good. Against the Mercury, the Liberty took a 58-50 lead early in the fourth quarter before eventually turning the ball over with 1:08 remaining, down just one, leading to a Leilani Mitchell triple and an eventual Phoenix win.

Turnovers have been an issue for the Liberty all season — 15.9 per game ranks second most in the league. On this night, however, Kia Nurse forced a crucial one with her team ahead by four with 41 seconds left, coming from behind to poke the ball away from Indiana’s Erica Wheeler as the point guard was hastily dribbling the ball into the frontcourt. Two categories, turnovers and defense, that have often worked against New York this season benefitted the road team at an opportune time on Tuesday. The Liberty also committed just 13 giveaways themselves.

“We battle, we play hard and we haven’t been lucky in the past,” Coach Katie Smith said. “I thought we played well. And then I thought our defense has been pretty solid, over these last couple games. Tonight, it came through towards the end.”

Nurse, overall, had an impactful and efficient game — she scored 20 points for the first time since the aforementioned win on July 5. She shot 6-8 from the field, including 4-5 from three-point range.

“I thought we moved the ball really, really well… and I think as a team defensively we were really, really good today,” said Nurse.

Tina Charles continues her post All-Star surge

After a stretch leading into the All-Star break during which Tina Charles shot just 7-40 over three games, scoring just 31 total points, the face of the franchise has been on a tear. Charles has scored 20 or more in six of her last seven games, highlighted by several high-percentage shooting performances (11-20 in Chicago on August 7, 10-16 against Seattle on August 11). She’s returned to her usual mastery in the paint, discouraging defenders with hook shots and tough-angle fadeaway jumpers. Charles turned in 23 on Tuesday — 21 of which came in the first half — along with 14 rebounds.

“Tina (Charles) is a big part of [our game plan] and her ability to score down low against anybody that we’re playing,” Nurse said. “I think she did a great job not only finding her shots but getting the ball out and then we moved it really well from that point on.”

Indiana Coach Pokey Chatman said that she attempted to put Charles in more defensive pick-and-roll situations to neutralize her impact. Although her scoring touch began to wear out in the later stages of the game, Charles’ teammates compensated in the second half — besides, her damage was already done.

“You have to make her work,” Chatman said. “We let her hurt us when she was fresh.”

Teaira McCowan establishes herself as a formidable paint presence

While the 2019 third overall pick Teaira McCowan has accumulated a collection of memorable performances throughout her rookie season in the WNBA, none have topped what she was able to accomplish against New York on Tuesday. Although in a loss, McCowan turned in a season and early career-high 24 points, reeking consistent havoc for the Liberty’s bigs attempting to contain her. Both Amanda Zahui B. — who returned to action after missing four games with a concussion — and Reshanda Gray fouled out after McCowan repeatedly drew fouls with her 6’7 height, positioning and footwork.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 18: Teaira McCowan #15 of the Indiana Fever goes for the ball against the Washington Mystics on August 18, 2019 at the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

“[McCowan] changes the game. We have to play to her, go through her, play off of her. We had 20 assists in the game tonight because ‘T’ was a monster,” Chatman said. “It’s a confidence builder for ‘T.’ It’s a learning opportunity for the rest of the roster. This should put everyone on notice.”

McCowan, who shoots free throws at 67.3% on the year, made 10 of her 14 attempts from the line and kept Indiana in the ball game when New York attempted to stretch what had become a narrow lead in the fourth quarter.

“You know [McCowan] plays like that, she can be very dominant in this league,” Charles said. “Her rebounding, her posting up, just how big and strong she is, she’s able to get position. So I would say McCowan was the difference, as far as them being able to cut the margin.”

Final Takeaways

Although both New York and Indiana are tied with the Wings at 3.5 games out of the last playoff berth of the WNBA standings, both had something to prove coming into Tuesday night. The Fever — who had won three in a row at home — want to continue to encourage their fans about the future of the franchise, which has already surpassed last year’s total of six wins. They showed signs of promise to gradually cut into an initially daunting Liberty lead,  but were unable to receive meaningful contributions from players besides McCowan — the Fever’s starting backcourt of Wheeler and Tiffany Mitchell shot a combined 4-21 for just 14 points. Indiana travels to LA for a contest against the Sparks on Thursday night.

The Liberty desperately wanted to avoid a second consecutive extended losing streak in the later portion of the season. In successfully doing so, they received standout games from All-Stars Charles and Nurse, along with critical fourth-quarter shot making and free throw shooting from Bria Harley. The Liberty have the opportunity to begin a new winning streak, returning home after a three-game road trip to play the Atlanta Dream on Friday.

Keith and Kimberly Geswein contributed reporting to this story.

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