By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- At some point, you have to give the New York Liberty credit for resilience and maintaining an upbeat attitude.
Friday evening’s 103-99 loss to the Chicago Sky left the Liberty at 4-11. The game against the Sky at Westchester County Center came about 24 hours removed from a last-second loss -- courtesy of an Elena Delle Donne three-pointer -- at Washington. The resilience showed as the Liberty showed no ill effects of a heartbreaking loss, followed by a postgame bus trip that got them back in New York at 4 a.m. Against the Sky, they battled gamely in a contest with 11 lead changes and five ties, a game not decided until Courtney Vandersloot hit two clinching free throws with 10 seconds remaining. The positive, an attitude and mindset coming from coach Katie Smith, who -- despite a fifth straight loss -- sees good things in her club.
“For two straight nights at Washington and here (against Chicago), we had very good effort out there," she said. "We did many things well, but I really would have liked a win out of those two games.”
A strong performance from Brittany Boyd was another positive.
“She struggled to get in the flow at Washington,” Smith said. “Tonight she was aggressive, defended and was patient on offense.” Boyd finished with 10 points, six assists and zero turnovers in 27 minutes.
With practice time at a premium in this compact schedule season, there are added challenges for teams looking to improve. The Liberty schedule this week saw a game Thursday at Washington followed by one the next night at home against Chicago, with the back end of a home-and-home with the same Sky team on Sunday. After another travel date, Seattle -- with Breanna Stewart -- invades Westchester on Tuesday. Smith sees beyond the busy schedule and pared down preparation, noting, “in the league, we know what each other's teams run. What it comes down to is playing good one-on-one defense and getting help (if you get beat). Making shots is another thing, it comes down to stops and scores.”
The proverbial little things are another part of the game, Smith addresses. “Boxing out, getting loose balls and not fouling in certain situations are crucial.”
For the Liberty, exhibit A came in the last few seconds of the second period. Holding a seven-point lead with five seconds left, the Liberty gave up a penetration basket by Chicago’s Cheyenne Parker. The ensuing inbound pass was intercepted by Diamond DeShields, who was fouled. DeShields canned both free throws. Instead of a seven-point lead at intermission, the lead was three, with momentum changing hands.
“That sequence was big,” Smith admitted. “It may not have cost the game for us, but it was something you don’t want to happen (closing out the half).”
Smith, who has seen the WNBA on the floor as a player and bench as a coach, knows very well that little things in this league turn out to be huge. Thus far for the Liberty, little things have made a big difference.