Seattle's Breanna Stewart drives inside against Liberty, who defeated Storm Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
NEW YORK -- Winners of three straight, the Liberty hosted Seattle in a Sunday afternoon matinee at Madison Square Garden. Getting a win here today would be significant for New York, as three of their next four games are away from home. It was a battle, and New York was up to task.
The Liberty used a defensive minded spurt in the closing minutes to post a 94-86 victory over the Storm, improving to 6-3 after scoring a fourth consecutive win. Seattle dropped a second straight road game to fall to 5-4.
On the first play of the game, Seattle’s Sue Bird came off a screen to catch and bury a mid-range jumper. The Liberty then answered with eleven straight points. After four minutes, they led 11-4. New York started with Tina Charles in the high post and Kiah Stokes down low. The set allowed Charles more offensive freedom. On the blocks, Stokes did a good job, especially reversing the ball when the defense collapsed.
Early on, it appeared the Liberty would thrill the home crowd with a one-sided affair. It was not to be. Two former UConn standouts combined to keep the Storm from preventing the hosts building on that early lead, as Breanna Stewart scored 14 of her 23 points in the first half, while Bird added 13 in the opening stanza. At the intermission, it was a one possession game, with Seattle posing a serious threat despite trailing by a score of 43-40.
The offensive numbers reflected a good showing for the Liberty, posting an efficiency rating of 110 over 39 possessions. The defense, however, was another story that coach Bill Laimbeer undoubtedly addressed during intermission.
The first four minutes of the second half ended with a 53-all tie on the scoreboard. Bird knocked down two three-pointers, with Stewart adding one of her own as the Storm moved the ball and took advantage of the open looks. The Stewart-Bird combination and Jewell Loyd would not allow Seattle to go away. Stewart split time between the point and wing. For good measure, she proved to be Seattle’s best rebounder before picking up her fifth foul with 7:33 to go in regulation, with the Storm trailing by four.
Coach Jenny Boucek sat Stewart down. The question is, in a close game, how long do you sit a key player having a solid afternoon? Boucek opted to bring Stewart back with 4:40 remaining and the score tied. It appeared to be a good move until Stewart picked up foul number six and was gone just 15 seconds after re-entering.
The game was a one-possession affair for most of the final quarter. The possibility of overtime was evident, but in the final minutes, the Liberty made the defensive plays to finally gain separation and close out the victory. With two minutes left, New York led, 85-84. Those last 120 seconds saw the Liberty go on a deciding 9-2 run to seal the verdict. Stewart’s 23 points were the high-water mark among all players, while Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers led the Liberty with 21 apiece.
Possessions: New York 80, Seattle 83
Offensive efficiency: New York 118, Seattle 104
Effective field goal percentage: New York 49, Seattle 51
Free throw rate: New York 37, Seattle 24
Offensive rebound rate: New York 35, Seattle 27
Turnover rate: New York 9, Seattle 17
What New York did well: Make defensive plays and get key steals that translated into points in the latter minutes of the contest.
What Seattle did well: Battle back from a slow start and hit from the perimeter, shooting 10-for-23 from long range.
NOTES: Shavonte Zellous (16 points) and Bria Hartley (10 points, two assists, three steals and zero turnovers) also contributed to the winning cause. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, a 6-foot-2 forward in her first year with the Liberty, added 10 points and has been coming on strong of late. Both teams scored 38 points in the paint in a game featuring nine ties and eleven lead changes.
Charles led all players with 14 rebounds, while Stewart paced Seattle with 10. Bird had a game-high 10 assists.
“You don’t know what will happen when you lose players, but this group is understanding and playing well with each other. We still have a long way to go. Tina is our main gun. Kiah Stokes did not have a big day on offense, but got key baskets and was a solid defender. I knew Zellous could be a scorer when I drafted her in Detroit. She always took a back seat, but not now. She took care of the ball, that makes us tough to beat. The last few games, Bria is playing with confidence. Today was a good building block for her. We have had focus and concentration. It was nice to be at home for four straight, but I honestly believe we could have won four straight away from home. As long as we can keep scoring, our defense will take care of itself.” - Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer