Della Donne Ruins Garden Party as Liberty Drop Opener
It was the best of times for the New York Liberty (1-1) as they rallied to tie the Chicago Sky 55-55 after the third quarter in their return to Madison Square Garden after four years playing in Newark, NJ. It was also the worst of times as the Liberty offense sputtered at times and, for the most part, could not sustain the Chicago attack.
The Liberty got all they could handle of Elena Della Donne, who torched New York for 23 points. New York dropped their home opener 79-65.
Chicago (2-0) got good guard play from Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley (24 points combined) and their bigs scored crucial points inside, especially Jessica Breland who scored 13 points and grabbed eleven rebounds.
“This is a high scoring game for us.” Bill Laimbeer explained. “I think right now our defense is going to have to carry us. We can’t rely on it only, we have to execute to win games.”
For the Liberty, who defeated Connecticut in their season opener fairly easily a night earlier, it was a role reversal tonight.
“The energy, we weren’t scoring, yesterday we were scoring, had positive energy all around.” Alex Montgomery explained. “We just weren’t as positive as we were on Friday.” Coach Bill Laimbeer adds, “When we execute we are going to be OK, when we don’t we’re going to struggle.”
The return to their black home jerseys brought back memories of when past players like Weatherspoon, Hampton, Wicks, and Lobo roamed the Garden floor. All were in attendance tonight.
The Liberty had Cappie Pondexter and returning scorer Essence Carson back. They had acquired new center Tina Charles. They had an effective second guard in Anna Cruz, from Spain, who hustled throughout and ran step for step with Sky guards and showed how effective she is when she sat down and Chicago’ small ballers started getting easy penetration and layups.
The Liberty were paced by Pondexter, Carson, and Charles. However, Della Donne was unstoppable and Milton Jones and Charles were not up the task. Take nothing away from the Liberty, it was a grind of a game for the most part, and most of the players just recently arrived in the past week. They do have great potential weapons that only need some jelling time.
“We have to get a feel for each others games,” Alex said. “But we’ll get it.”
Cappie added, “We are improved, its up to us how much we want to get better. Thats just effort, putting the time and energy in.” Laimbeer agreed, “We played hard, good defense, but everyone gas to be like that on the same page, that’s not there right now.
The Garden, if last night was any indication, will be a tough place to play for other teams in the league. The return of Carson (13 points) was inspiring as she showed more patience and her defense will be an aspect that will be welcome.
“I can’t ask for anything more than to be back in the Garden. Its been a long off season for me,” Essence shared. “I feel good, no pain. Just letting the game come to me. Trying not to force things.”
Laimbeer liked what he saw from her. “Essence is coming around, made some quality shots, played good defense. The knee looks sound.”
Tina Charles, with 15 pts and 12 rebounds, showed some nice flashes of her former MVP game and one expects we will see more elite play from her. Laimbeer especially wants to utilize all her talents. “We’re going to work on creating space for Charles so she can go to work right away.”
Pondexter, though frustrated often, led the way with 14 points but her shooting 3-16 was off.
“We want Cappie to score but she just has to get the rest of the players involved,” Coach Laimbeer added.
Anna Cruz has been the biggest surprise thus far, running the offense when Cappie sits or together with Cappie as they did in the opener vs Connecticut.
“Here we play more physical, they allow more contact and its a faster game.” Anna explained about the transition from playing in Europe. Laimbeer likes what he has in Cruz. “She is going to be a fan favorite. She hogs the ball and creates turnovers in the backcourt that are unheard of. She has long arms and can run all day, bever gets tired. She is mature, and a solid player.”
The bench was pretty non-existent, with the exception of brief moments from Alex Montgomery and Plennette Pierson, who missed training camp. “We’re still in the meshing point. Cappie and Tina got in late. Its like we are starting a two week training camp. But it can only go up from here.” Plennette shared. Bill Laimbeer and the players are not talking championship or even playoff aspirations. With the humbling experience of a season ago, they are more careful with talks of expections. But to a woman, they seem to understand that when they finish tinkering, that this team will have a lot going for it. “We have more options, but not enough of what we are going to need to constantly compete for championships.”
Now, with a week until their next game, Laimbeer has a lot of practices to continue working. But the players are excited to be back in the city and with there new locker room digs, the renovated arena, and the large crowd which included several New York Knicks players and an impressive DJ set from Sofie Fatale made it feel like a professional atmosphere again which has to be a plus. “Its a big realization that we are back in the heart of New York again. We have to bring the heat everytime we hit the floor,” Plennette Pierson confirmed.