The New York Liberty face the Tulsa Shock today after ending a three game losing streak on Sunday. An offensive adjustment designed to help their guards was part of what made the difference.
NEW YORK CITY – About an hour before game time on Sunday Bill Laimbeer, took a seat and watched pre-game warmups.
The Liberty coach made no small talk. His concentration was fixed intently on the players as he tried to get a read on them. A three game losing streak and the memory of last Thursday’s debacle were valid reasons for concern.
Any of those thoughts or concerns Laimbeer may have had were quickly erased. The Liberty scored the game’s first ten points and never looked back in an 81-64 victory over the Washington Mystics on Sunday.
The Liberty’s main test during the Garden contest came as the first quarter ended. New York held an eight point lead and inbounded the ball with seconds left. The Mystics came up with a steal and Kara Lawson buried a three as the buzzer sounded. A potential 10 point lead was down to five in an eyelash.
Unlike the previous game, the Liberty did not sulk.
With the quarter ended they ran off the floor to their bench. On the sideline Laimbeer seethed over that final possession. The Liberty responded by building on that five point lead, not to be challenged for the duration of the afternoon. Their lead at one point was 28 points.
“We came out with a lot of energy today,” Laimbeer praised. “This was a game we needed badly and I think it showed what we are capable of. We made a lot of shots then good things happened.”
The Liberty coach ensured the ‘heart to heart’ with his team on Friday was not a major issue. Rather more a case of changing some of the offensive structure.
“We made some changes in our offense that would help the guards a bit more,” he said. “We wanted to open things up but the focus is still looking for Tina (Charles) down low.”
Cappie Pondexter benefited from the offensive alterations with a game-high 21 points, scoring efficiently from the floor. Pondexter shot a blistering 10 of 11 from the field. The Liberty guard credited the presence of Charles for opening up opportunities on the perimeter.
“When she (Charles) gets defensive attention that gives us good looks outside,” she said. “She draws defensive attention.”
Charles contributed a solid 14 point 8 rebound effort. Alex Montgomery added 13 points, 7 boards in 19 minutes of action.
“In the cafeteria at our training center is a poster of Wayne Gretzky saying ‘you will miss 100% of the shots you do not take’,” Laimbeer said. “The other day I pointed that out to Alex and said, ‘That is you.’ She has such a sweet shooting stroke but she was passing up shots. We encouraged her to soot more.”
And Montgomery did, to the tune of 4-for-7 shooting (3 for 4 from downtown).
Anna Cruz, a rokkie guard from Spain spot also drew praise for a strong all around effort. Cruz added 10 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists against a single turnover.
The Liberty hit 48% of their shots but were on fire (7-of-11) at 64% beyond the arc. Four players hit double figures. The defense again was a staple with Lawson (17 points) the lone Mystic to hit double digits.
“Our defense was pretty good and we limited their second shots,” Laimbeer said. “Overall I’m happy with the defense. It has been our offense in question but today we shot the ball very well.”
What a difference a few days made. The post game Liberty locker room saw the team in a feel good mood exuding confidence with a trip to Tulsa next on tap. Pondexter elaborated on the meeting the day after the San Antonio game.
“We did talk things out as a group,” she said. “We basically talked about what we had to do to be a better team. We all want to get better and be a better team.”
The Liberty record is under .500 at 3-5. Significantly, a three game losing streak ended against a team they lost to nine days earlier. Their offensive touch came alive on this afternoon. Time will tell, but maybe the collective confidence did as well.