What did we learn and how does New York move forward?
WHITE PLAINS, NY —In a battle against the playoff-bound Connecticut Sun last week, the Liberty scored 84 points without Tina Charles. How was this possible? Was it the energy of the Westchester County Center? Did New York’s sharpshooters have a moment to shine?
The answer to both is a confident yes. Han Xu got her moment and the crowd reacted accordingly. New York fired ten three balls on 24 attempts as 60 percent of those made shots came off the hands of two Liberty rookies: teenage Han and 21 Century Statue of Liberty Marine Johannès. Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B. and Bria Hartley added the four remaining long balls.
Without Charles, New York spread the floor to score and to set up scoring. Without Charles, New York outrebounded their opponent on offense. Without Charles, New York still scored more points than Connecticut in the paint, with 40.
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With under 47 seconds left in the first quarter with Han, Boyd, Johannès, Nurse and Rebecca Allen all on the floor, New York used their assets and made Connecticut work on defense. Brittany Boyd, who is a natural point guard, but has fallen out of the top of the rotation, drew in the defense and created space for her teammates.
Han and MJ executed patience with the basketball, passing around the perimeter. And once the French native received the ball back from Boyd, Han created a screen which allowed for a mismatch. Courtney Williams got smushed, almost hugging the teenage center, while Johannès dribbled and outran Theresa Plaisance. MJ hoisted the ball up on the baseline and the Liberty were down by single digits.
The 24-year-old from France got her mojo back on Friday night. While she wasn’t perfect from the field, she led New York in scoring with 21 points and tied with Boyd for most assists with six. (She added 22 in Tuesday night’s loss to Washington.) Her dime to Reshanda Gray with 3:29 left in the quarter looked as though they had been playing together for years rather than months. Perhaps Johannès fits into the point guard answer on this roster. Her passes were made confidently and comfortably.
“I think there was a little lull there where she wasn’t looking to score and just kind of letting the ball loose,” Smith said on Johannès. “I like the aggressiveness. I think she has great vision. She’s comfortable. She has quickness to get around traps. She can raise up and knock down shots. For her during that stretch, she wasn’t looking to score. And for her, she needs to be someone who is looking to attack.”
In addition to Johannès flying around on both sides of the ball and beating Courtney Williams on some drives, her pal Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe was efficient as she was resilient. She only missed once in six attempts, scoring ten points, and was close to a double-double with seven rebounds. “She was looking at the rim, getting extra possessions, runs the floor hard, I’ve always been pleased about what she brings to the table,” Smith said.
New York had its best quarter defensively in the third. With the help on defense from Amanda Zahui B. and Tanisha Wright, who swiped the ball a combined five times, the Liberty held the Sun to 17 points.
“Hah,” Katie Smith laughed when she was told her squad had its best quarter coming after the half. “That was a positive. The starters came out well. Again that’s been a tough one for us all year. It’s partly a mindset. It’s partly physical.”
Movement. Defense. Confidence. That’s what I saw from a New York squad without their star.