Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Liberty 79, Mystics 74: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY - We tend to look at playoff finals as being the ultimate test, a battle of wills stretched to maximum intensity. This assessment is correct, but the earlier rounds carry those same qualities and demands found in the final round. This was evident Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The New York Liberty and Washington Mystics met with their best-of-three series knotted. The deciding contest was set for the hallowed Garden floor.

In a game generating appreciable electricity in the air and excitement from an adoring fan base, the New York Liberty defeated the Washington Mystics 79­-74. The game featured seven ties and three lead changes. It was only fitting the game was settled with seconds remaining.

Respective coaches Mike Thibault of Washington and New York’s Bill Laimbeer both have ‘second season’ experience. Laimbeer’s extends as a player as well as coach. Both spoke of playoffs literally raising the pulse. In an environment where coaching staffs will utilize analytics to gain an edge, Thibault was spot on in noting “one turnover or missed rebound per half can send you to defeat.”

On this evening, we were also given another playoff lesson, depth is not a luxury, it’s a vital necessity. The Liberty’s Tina Charles, a marquee player, contributed a game-high 22 points and a dozen boards. Off the bench, Kiah Stokes added a game-high 13 rebounds and a crucial block on a potential game-tying three-point attempt with seconds left. Sugar Rodgers and Candice Wiggins also contributed a combined 32 points in relief.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. Team scouting and preparation is magnified in a playoff series­, especially a best-of-three. The teams know each other all too well. It should be of little surprise that the most minute detail can send a team home while another advances. Both the Liberty and Mystics knew this. On this special evening, the nine thousand-plus fans in attendance witnessed it.

Tina Charles is a picture of concentration on the line prior to the contest:
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer watches pregame warmups, composed and relaxed:
Swin Cash of the Liberty and Washington's Ivory Latta during a free throw respite:
A meeting of UConn alumni, as Kiah Stokes of the Liberty battles Washington's Stefanie Dolson for rebounding position:
The Liberty defending the perimeter:
Washington coach Mike Thibault meets the media following a tough defeat:
Hold the hockey nets for now, as there is still basketball to be played with the Liberty moving on:

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