Pretty In Pink, Liberty Survive Mystic-al Evening
The New York Liberty wore pink uniforms upon their return to Madison Square Garden this evening for Breast Health Awareness Night. Tina Charles was the offense as she scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as she paced New York (10-14) to a 80-76 overtime win over the Washington Mystics. (13-14) But she was far from alone as three players, Cruz, Pondexter and Rodgers all scored double digits and played key roles in this key victory.
Laimbeer is liking some things which is a far cry from earlier when the Liberty started 3-9 and looked lost offensively. Even with the second half collapse they pulled out a win. “It’s a good sign – they all like each other and the chemistry this year is so much different than last year.” Laimbeer pointed out. ” They root for each other. I thought across the board we all got some really good efforts.” Tina Charles also had her views on the difference in play. “The first half of the season, we were still trying to figure things out. Players were developing and learning their roles. In the second half, we have a lot more confidence. What Sugar Roberts did tonight really showed that a lot of players are coming into their own.”
The Liberty rode Charles to a 21-15 lead after one. Washington were practically enemic shooting 41 percent. The Liberty were only slightly better at the half at 43, but with inspired play from Natasha Lacy, who provided speed and smart play, the offense moving smoothly. Laimbeer noticed. “You saw players like Natasha Lacy, a recent pickup, come in and play very quality minutes. Charde Houston came in today and played quality minutes also.” Laimbeer explained. Avery Warley-Talbert grabbed a season high 11 rebounds, 4 on one series when she was stopped on five straight layup attempts, with no foul calls that was laughable but a major sign on why Laimbeer put her in the starting lineup, to provide muscle to both sides of the court.
Tina Charles, whose medium jumper was on, is unstoppable when that happens. Charles finished with 19 and 8 boards in the first half. The Liberty got enough from the bench with Plenette Pierson adding six and Cruz had six in support, but with the Liberty leading 40-28 after a turnover, saw the ball go into the hands of Alex Montgomery, who missed her first five shots, and from beyond half court line lifted a rainbow that went the distance and swished cleanly, pumping up a Liberty team who was already in control.
The Liberty started slow in the third. Laimbeer blew a gasket, and Cappie responded with a jump shot. Intensity suddenly went up several notches. Cappie went to work and was up to ten pts and five rebounds and with 3:52 a catch and left underhand scoop shot and with 1:41 left made it 54-41. It apoeared an easy night at the office. Suddenly Washington found its shot with Mystic guard Ivory Latta hitting a three and Ruffin Pratt drive suddenly put Washington within ten after three.
Lawson three made it six starting the fourth, but Chade Houston, just off the bench provided crucial minutes and scores and big rebound to extend a play where Cruz scored. Bill had seen enough and the big gunners Cappie and Charles returned with 6:53 left. But the momentum coukd not be stopped. Currie three made it 64- 60 with a three but missed a big foul shot, hitting one of two, Charles hit a big jumper from top of the key, which gave her 21 and with a five point lead and under four minutes the Liberty appeared on their way. However, the Mystics, with 20 of 50 shooting in the three preceding quarters rallied.”We got a little frustrated within ourselves and relaxed. They were playing harder than us but once we stopped their run, we went back and forth.” Cappie explained. Latta confirmed the nature of the contest as she hit a three and cut it to 66-64. A technical saw Cappie miss. Olson hard left hand hook tied it, but Charles showed her MVP moves. A running dribble and stop for short jumper and New York was up 68-66 with 1:30 left. A defensiveve stand with 1:04 left followed. Then New York went to Cruz control , off a miss and deflection that found its way to her on the three pt line and Cruz hit the shot that made it 70-66. Cruz had 13 at this point with 40 seconds left. But Washington was stubborn.
Lawson scored and drew a foul with 22 seconds left and hit a foul making it 70-69. Can you say meltdown? A turnover gave it back to the Mystics. Sugar stripped Pratt on drive and got fouled with 12 seconds left in regulation. She hit one of two and then Hartley drove for tying score with 6/10th of a second left. But New York still had Sugar to spice the attack. Sugar Rodgers was indominable in the overtime after the Liberty were outscored in the fourth 25-15. Sugar scored five points and rebounded and kept the Mystics guessing. “She was a magnet! She was everywhere! It was a great call by Coach to give her the confidence she needed to make the stops – and we needed it!” Pondexter praised. Laimbeer was also appreciative. “We know Sugar (Rodgers) can play defense. There’s no question about that – she’s a very solid defender and I had her in down the stretch because she is a solid defender.” Laimbeer said. “I’ve been working on her to be more aggressive offensively – she made a big three ball. Overall, I think she played a solid game for us, as did many other players for us tonight.”
Finally after it appeared that Washington was about to tie it again. Cruz came from behind to deflect a steal and save it to Charles with 11 seconds left. Plenette was fouled on back to back plays to force foul shots. Where the Mystics failed with four crucial misses from the free stop, Pierson sank both to make it a four point lead and Sugar again closed the game smothering her opponent and forcing a jump ball.
“The Liberty were able to do what they wanted in the first half. In the second half, we came in and did a good job with stops and executing the offense. In the second half, we really picked up our defense better than in the first half. We started making shots and we shared the ball but in the end the free throws cost us and so did their offensive rebounds.” Washington’s Monique Currie, who tied for team lead with 12 summarized.
“For the win itself, it’s a very big win for our franchise. We’re trying to catch anybody and everybody in front of us.” Laimbeer added. The Liberty has two straight big road games in Chicago and Atlanta. But now the Liberty are in the mix. The grind continues.
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