There is something special brewing in the Big Apple, as the New York Liberty has risen to the top of the WNBA. But what has caused such a remarkable turnaround? Chemistry.
New York City, NY – In coaching lore they say getting a technical foul can take a team struggling with a listless approach and fire them up. The technical is normally by the coach’s design. It can happen with a player, though not really by design.
On Friday early in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden, Tina Charles of the New York Liberty was assessed a ‘T’. At the time, the Liberty had a one-point lead. The visiting Atlanta Dream would soon take the lead, increasing it to nine midway through the third stanza. Then Charles took over. Dominating and ultimately leading the Liberty to a 78-67 victory.
The first half the Dream doubled down on Charles in the low post. Sensing the double, she reversed the ball to the weak side. Atlanta had that covered with a defender sliding down to deflect or intercept the pass.
The second half, Charles stepped out near the foul line and hit the mid-range jumper. She scored 17 of her game-high 25 points that final half. In addition, Charles pulled down seven boards. The technical may have had a delayed effect on firing Charles up, but she did not mention it.
“This is a rivalry game,” Charles said in the Liberty locker room. “This was a tough, aggressive game. They (Atlanta) are very physical. They came in needing to win this one.” As Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer who called this a ‘playoff type game’ later assessed, “this game was a test for us. And we passed.”
Give a world of credit to Charles. Don’t forget Epiphanny Prince, an 18 point scorer, knocking down three treys and playing no small part in the Liberty comeback. It would be a severe oversight to terminate the discussion with Charles and Prince. Prominent mention must be made of the supporting cast. Called on by Laimbeer to get the job done they responded.
Brittany Boyd came off the bench to “give us a great deal of energy,” per Laimbeer. Boyd scored 7 points, handed out 4 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. Carolyn Swords started, played well the first half then “got a little tentative,” in Laimbeer’s estimation. Kiah Stokes scored 8 points with a game-high nine rebounds in relief. “Kiah had two blocked shots,” Laimbeer said, “but she probably changed 10 more.”
Tanisha Wright and Candace Wiggins combined for two points. Their roles were crucial, taking turns defending Angel McCoughtry. The Dream’s leading scorer, McCoughtry scored 13 points.
She had six the second half and did not enter the scorebook the final twenty minutes until just under 6 minutes remained. “Candace (Wiggins) and Tanisha (Wright) played physical defense on Angel (McCoughtry),” Laimbeer said.
“They bumped her, got physical and made it tough on her getting looks,” Charles added the praise saying, “our guards Candace and Tanisha defended Angel (McCoughtry) well. She (McCoughtry) can go off on you for 40 points. Our defenders kept her in check tonight.”
The Liberty are atop the East at 18-8. The Dream are now 10-16 with their clock ticking. Laimbeer still will not discuss playoffs except to say “we haven’t qualified or won anything yet.” He will openly discuss team chemistry.
“We built a team this year with the emphasis on chemistry,” he said. “How outstanding this chemistry has been is a pleasant surprise.” It is evident in playing time. Laimbeer said among the reserves playing time can often be dispersed unevenly. Get 15 to 20 minutes one night 2 or 3 the next, all according to the situation.
“Our players know, (Tina) Charles scores,” said, “(Epiphanny) Prince is our guard threat. The others have different roles. Those roles change and can divide up playing time in different ways.” The team realizes this and has totally bought in. “Winning,” Laimbeer added, “can also cure a lot of ailments.”