NEW YORK -- They started the season slowly, but as of late, the Connecticut Sun have reversed their fortunes.
They entered Madison Square Garden Friday on a four-game win streak. One of those four victories was over the New York Liberty nine days prior in Connecticut. The Liberty were coming off an overtime win at Dallas. More than just avenging that loss to the Sun, the Liberty looked to get some momentum of their own.
It was not to be, as the Liberty were unable to capitalize on the home court. The Sun saw a large lead dissipate before regrouping for a 94-89 victory, improving to 6-5 while the Liberty fell to 7-5.
On their opening set, Connecticut attempted a three-pointer that failed to make the mark. The Liberty ran a screen-and-roll with the penetrator passing to the left corner. Possession was reversed, but New York could not get a shot off due to a violation. Interestingly, Tina Charles did not get a touch on the first possession. On the flip side, the Liberty did show good ball movement that first trip.
The first five minutes saw the Liberty hold a 10-9 lead. All three of the Sun field goals were dialed in from long distance. The Liberty had two threes and a third field goal just inside the arc. The opening minutes showed both teams involved in a perimeter-oriented offense. Connecticut led 26-18 at the end of the first quarter. The first ten minutes produced a 19-possession affair, with Connecticut holding a 137-95 edge in offensive efficiency. Credit the effective field goal percentage for those numbers, as Connecticut shot 61 percent in that category thanks to going 5-of-9 from deep.
The Sun led 46-32 at halftime. Coach Curt Miller’s team held a 118-82 lead in offensive efficiency. Once again, it was the effective field goal percentage of the Sun. At the half, they had a 61 percent mark thanks to 9-of-18 shooting from long range. Two odd stats befell the Liberty in the opening half, as they did not record an offensive rebound or free throw.
The Liberty needed to come out strong the first five minutes of the third quarter and trim their deficit to single digits. They did trim the lead to seven before the Sun answered to get the lead back to 11 at the five-minute mark. Connecticut soon opened a lead that grew to 21 points. As the fourth quarter began, the Sun still owned a 14 point lead. To little surprise, the Liberty made a run to get within three possessions early in the final stanza. Again, no shock here, the run was fueled by the work of Charles on both ends of the floor. The Liberty’s Epiphanny Prince hit a three-pointer with just under four minutes to play, making a contest that was once a rout into a one-possession affair.
Momentum is very important, and often crucial when a team squanders a big lead. A Shavonte Zellous layup with 66 seconds left in regulation allowed the Liberty to tie the game. The Sun never gave up the lead after that, responding with a Courtney Williams pull-up jumper and Jasmine Thomas three before closing it out from the charity stripe in the final seconds.
Offensive efficiency: Connecticut 116, New York 110
Effective field goal percentage: Connecticut 56, New York 62
Free throw rate: Connecticut 26, New York 32
Offensive rebound percentage: Connecticut 26, New York 9
Turnover rate: Connecticut 10, New York 17
What Connecticut did well: Force turnovers and hit the offensive boards. The Sun enjoyed a 21-4 lead in second chance points. They also forced 14 turnovers, converting 28 points off those
What New York did well: Shoot the ball. The Liberty shot 53 percent from the floor, which rarely translates into a loss.
Both teams had impressive effective field goal marks. As pointed out, the three-point shooting was largely responsible. The Sun shot 12-of-24 from three, while the Liberty were 10-of-21. While the Sun held a big lead in second chance points, interestingly, the points in the paint were 30 each. What transpired was the second chances for Connecticut often resulted in kickouts to the perimeter for three-pointers.
Leading scorers and NBA/WNBA efficiency:
Connecticut: Jasmine Thomas, 23 points (efficiency rating: 21)
New York: Tina Charles, 20 points (efficiency rating: 27)
NOTES: Connecticut only had a 30-29 overall lead in rebounding. The Sun dominated the offensive glass to a 9-2 count. Alyssa Thomas was a tough matchup inside. The Connecticut forward scored 12 points, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. She also led all players with eight assists. Charles was the game rebounding leader with 11. She also added a team-high six assists.
New York hits the road for four straight, a crucial stretch where they visit Washington, Atlanta, Seattle, and Phoenix. Their next home game is on July 14 against the chicago Sky.
“Give Connecticut credit, they played a strong game all year. In Connecticut, we didn’t show. Here, we played hard. Same things: We have to value the basketball and gave them opportunities off the offensive boards. They made shots. Congratulations. The third quarter, we tried to get back, but threw the ball all over the gym. We have to start taking care of things like that if we want to compete. When we shoot 53 percent, we should win every game. It comes to little things like valuing the basketball. We are not there.” - Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer