NEWARK, NJ – It came down to the final possession.
In effect, the victory was there form whomever could get that extra stop. The added offensive put back. Running down and getting to one more loose ball.
In the end result, it came in favor of the San Antonio Silver Stars as the visitors edged the New York Liberty in overtime, 78-77, at the Prudential Center on Sunday.
Yes, games of this nature come down to a key possession or two in the final minutes and, in this case, overtime. Yet the true tale of this contest was in the first few minutes.
The Liberty were struggling out of the gate: two of the first three possessions resulted in turnovers. Minutes into the game, the visitors owned a double digit lead.
“We did not appear to be ready the first quarter,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer admitted.
Laimbeer refused to blame the loss on having nine days between games. It wasn’t a layoff. More of a misguided mindset.
“We took the floor thinking we just had to show up and would automatically win,” Laimbeer said.
Gradually the Liberty, as they have done at the friendly confines of the ‘Rock’ on several occasions, battled back. Opportunities to build a run and a lead of significance were negated by turnovers. The Liberty appeared to be moving in the right direction in caring for the ball evidenced by the recent win over Connecticut.
Today it was back to the old ways with 21 turnovers.
“I take blame for that (turnovers),” Laimbeer said. “I have to instill a sense of urgency regarding turnovers to the team. In our system we can’t turn it over 21 times and hope to win.”
In the Liberty locker room, Leilani Mitchell, coming off another strong outing (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) agreed with Laimbeer and had insight to add.
“Too many turnovers,” Mitchell said. “That and we did not rebound offensively. Those two things were the difference.”
The Liberty were outrebounded on the offensive boards by a 17-12 count. Five rebounds does not seem like a significant margin. In the realm of a one possession outing the difference is glaring.
“The second half we had a lot of rebounding sequences where we were slapping at the ball to keep it alive,” Laimbeer said. “I don’t know if it’s (lack of) conditioning or effort but we have to grab it.”
A Katie Smith three pointer had given the Liberty a 77-74 lead and ultimately their last points with just over two minutes to go in the extra session. Danielle Robinson (team-high 18 points) hit a driving layup with just under two minutes to go. Shenise Johnson put the visitors up a point with a jumper with 36 seconds to play. The final possession the Liberty could not convert as Smith’s potential game winner was blocked by Jia Perkins on the perimeter as the final buzzer sounded.
The Silver Stars entered 0-2 on the road. The Liberty were undefeated (4-0) at home. They were honoring former Liberty great Sue Wicks. Cappie Pondexter, a game-high 19 points and team pacesetter with 11 boards, even wore Wicks’ name on her familiar number 23 jersey.
Everything seemed to be in alignment for the Liberty to embark on a four game road swing with another victory.
It was not to be.
“We wanted to get on the road at 5-2,” Laimbeer said. “Instead we are 4-3. It all adds up to defending your home turf.”