LIBERTY VICTORY OVER STORM: SWEET AS SUGAR
The New York Liberty scored their first home win since their return to Madison Square Garden, 70-64, over Sue Bird (21 points) and the Seattle Storm (1-4), last night and evened their ledger at 2-2. Cappie Pondexter hit the side jumper that broke a 64-64 tie with 24 seconds left, but the story tonight was the emergence of Sugar Rodgers. When it appeared another game was about to slip away, Rodgers provided some needed scoring, tallying 15 points, hitting a big three moments before Cappie’s go ahead and hounding Sue Bird, who gave the Liberty fits early on.
Coming off of a tough road loss to defending champion Minnesota, they found how important role players are, as more often than not, it was the supporting cast that finished off what the stars began. Last night, the Liberty wanted to get their newest acquisition Tina Charles off. She started like a ball of fire scoring 6 points, but more importantly, grabbed seven rebounds off of the defensive boards.
But Sue Bird, returning home, started to torch Anna Cruz, scoring eight points in a one minute stretch, which kept the Storm close. The game was dictated by the Liberty who returned to their home whites. They guarded the perimeter well collectively and looked sharper in their assignments. They reduced the breakdowns and open looks that other teams would get way too often for a team that is supposed to be defense first. Anna Cruz ran the point well and electrified the audience with a drive and layup up under the basket.
Bird was relentless, and though the Liberty played better, they found themselves down by three at the half. In the third, the turnover bugaboo returned as the Storm took advantage with transition points off of mistakes, taking a 53-47 lead after three.
The star of the game was already emerging. Sugar Rodgers, along with Cappie and Alex Montgomery, and Cruz, started hounding and harassing Bird. “She was cutting this way and that. I just tried to defend her as close as possible,” Rodgers explained. It started paying dividends, as did the low post presence of Tina Charles, whose drawing of double teams opened the perimeter and Sugar started hitting, and the dagger shot three that tied the game late in the fourth, drove a New York team that was starting to gas out to pick up the pace once more.
The game was in the balance and players like Plenette Pierson did the little things, providing scoring to keep the Liberty within range, drawing an offensive charge that emitted a discharge of emotion. “I know I wasn’t going to get a lot of touches offensively,” Pierson pointed out. “But I tried to make defensive plays- taking charges, getting rebounds, anything to help the team.” It was something pent up that was seen various times tonight. Tina crashed to the floor to fight for the ball from the Storm after failing to score. Kara Braxton, who sadly was released after the game, showed her frustration when she swung at two Seattle players as they appeared to foul her with no calls made. The moment Tina Charles was added, Braxton’s days were numbered. However, it was quite rapid for the minutes she got and being replaced by a player who was not deemed good enough to make the team this preseason.
Then there was Cappie Pondexter, All-Star, who had not hit one of these shots in a while. She looked quicker tonight and more in sync due to the week of rest and practice. The relief she spoke about showed how close things were to being different on the scoreboard. “It felt great. I’m just glad we’re on the winning side, instead of it being in the locker room with our heads down trying to understand why we would have lost this game at home again.”
In the end, it was a gritty display of grinding it out ball. A defense that was more stubborn made a final statement when Tina Charles, who scored the points and got the boards, found frustration with vintage Tina shots just not going down. After the Cappie score, a big block down under the basket sent the message that this game would be theirs. Now, tonight the Liberty start a two game road trip in Washington D.C. against the Mystics, looking to get above .500 again.