The promotional heme for the New York Liberty towards their fans for this one-off playoff game was “Show Up.” Unfortunately, after a season off, Diana Taurasi showed up. She torched the New York defense for 30 points and Brittney Griner dominated in the post for 22 points and 10 boards while the Phoenix Mercury added the Liberty to the same scrap heap they left Indiana. Their 101-92 triumph was their second consecutive one game elimination victory as the eighth seed now advances to the WNBA Semi-finals.
The Liberty, after a second consecutive 20 win season (21-13), were missing something that was hard to define. It appeared at the Olympic break that they had refined all their trouble spots. Tina Charles led the WNBA in scoring and rebounding and Sugar Rodgers moved permanently into the starting lineup leading the league in three pointers.
But after the break, New York looked average in losing five of eight games and three in a row to end the season as they nursed injuries and rested starters. Phoenix on the other hand played their best ball after the break especially their All-Star center Brittney Griner. “Before the Olympics I wasn’t playing my best basketball, and after the Olympics I really got into a groove,” Griner admitted, “The Olympics gave us both (Diana Taurasi) a boost.”
Their 17-18 record was deceptive as they came into the WNBA playoffs as the eighth seed but were hot coming in. They knocked out Tamika Catchings and Indiana in the first round single gane elimination and last night looked like the team that won a championship only two years ago.
After an even first quarter, turnovers and poor decisions allowed a run that put New York behind by 15 at the half. It’s always a bad sign when Carolyn Swords is scoring because its an indication that the offense is not producing. Of the four Liberty players that reached double digits the most inspiring was Epiphanny Prince, who looked very much like her pre-injury self as she kept New York in the game and a three from the corner tied the match at 74 with 7:23 to play.
Tina Charles, as always, was in beast mode as she fought triple teams scoring 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds but also added five assists. Her three pointer ended a 13-2 run in the third that evened the game at that point. It was a heroic effort from a woman who has shouldered the load for the Liberty in her time here. “We did get better, we fought through adversity, and we didn’t make excuses for ourselves so aside from what happened tonight, I can’t cry.”
But Taurasi was like the pitbull that refuses to let go once its clamped its jaws. Taurasi drove hard when necessary. Her shot was deadly as she hit nine of her 17 shots, four of them threes and all at critical moments. “It has been a process. It hasn’t just been a switch, but really a slow grind,”Taurasi recalled, “Not only do I think we are all healthy, but after the break our roster has become set.”
She reminded the crowd again and again why she is a three-time WNBA champion. “That’s why I say she is the best player in the world,” Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello explained. “She is such an unselfish player, but she’s a player that her determination to win in those big moments exceeds anyone else.”
Tanisha Wright led the Liberty with 21 points closing out an excellent season at the point. Swin Cash closed out her WNBA career closed last night without any points but whose impact on the league is unquestioned.
“I told Swin in front of the team that I appreciate all the effort she put forth for New York,” Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer shared. “Especially all the years we’ve been together, the ups and downs that we’ve gone through.”
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