Sunday, June 11, 2017

Liberty's defense shines through in victory over Seattle

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- She spent the early part of the interview discussing her two key players.

One is a longtime veteran, defying age to keep herself and her game in great shape, the other a second-year player already making a significant impact in the league. She spoke on how the two, given their collegiate pedigree and background, are working so well together and affecting the team. After discussing Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, it was time for Jenny Boucek to discuss the game just completed.

After coming out with an admitted lack of energy, the Seattle Storm battled back and were in a position to exit Madison Square Garden with a road win. The final two minutes sealed the deal. The New York Liberty went on a game-deciding 9-2 run. A tenuous one-point lead turned into a 94-86 victory, a fourth straight win for the Liberty; now 6-3, and a second straight road loss for the 5-4 Storm. Once again, it was about defense.   
“We gave up 86 points, but I told the team we made defensive plays that decided the game,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer remarked following the victory. Laimbeer prides himself on defense. It was evident that the manner in which the defense responded in the last two minutes made the 86 points conceded a tolerable number.

“Seattle plays at a fast pace,” he said. “They have excellent shooters, create mismatches and are very tough to guard.” Stewart with a game high 23 points, Bird with 21, and Jewell Loyd scoring 19 were prime examples. On his behalf, the Liberty are not an easy team to guard. Tina Charles is the marquee player, but the likes of Kiah Stokes, Sugar Rodgers, Bria Hartley and Shavonte Zellous give the Liberty several weapons.   
“They are a good team no doubt,” Boucek praised. “If you are not locked in defensively against them, they will make you pay.” On this afternoon, the Liberty put four in double digits, led by Charles and Rodgers with 21 points each. Still, it gets back to defense.

Zellous, a 16-point scorer, spoke of the defense. “It is something we take pride in,” she said, “right down to the last detail.” And it starts in practice. “If we have a 90-minute workout, the first 60 minutes, maybe more are on defense. Then we work on offense. Our entire coaching staff, as well as players, emphasizes defense.”

As of late, it is showing. Four straight wins. Now comes the tricky part, with six of the Liberty’s next seven games away from the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. The road is never easy.

“I said before,” Laimbeer added, “our defense is very good.” “Once our offense continues to come around, we will be even better.”

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