Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4th, 2017: Phoenix at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty tightened up the defense in the fourth quarter to win down the stretch, 88-72, against the Phoenix Mercury. Kiah Stokes had a career-high 23 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds. Shavonte Zellous added 21. Brittney Griner had 26 points to lead all scorers.

For repeated flexing in a no-flex zone, a missed moment of awesome, too much purple, career highs, rocking the rim, and bringing the noise, join your intrepid and pleasantly surprised blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, everyone! We just dodged the rain; let’s hope we can dodge the desert heat, too! It's gameday at the Garden, as the Liberty host the Phoenix Mercury. (I almost wrote ‘hose’ there, which is rather more wishful thinking.)

No real pregame notes; most of the Mercury never made it out to the court or were already off before the fans got there.

Way too many stargazers for this game. Too much purple. I like purple in most contexts, but this is not one of them. On the plus side, the Yankee fan in front of me didn’t show up, and the family behind us is really enthusiastic about the game.

Youth chorus anthem. Not bad, but a little shaky.

Way too many dance groups. Staaaaaahp.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 47-41. Kiah Stokes is having herself a day already, with 15 and 10 at the break. Brittney Griner has been the star of the show for the Mercury, with 19 points. She’s even leading them in assists!

Liberty are getting a lot of good looks behind the defense, along the baseline. Mercury are getting three-point looks.

Cierra’s hair is still not on fire.

I wasn’t expecting to win this game late. I didn’t think we were the team that was going to make the big run in the fourth quarter to put the game away, because that’s not the team we’ve been. I’ll happily take it, don’t get me wrong!

Sandy, Y U NO PUT BRUNNER IN GAME? Would it really have made a difference in the final minute?

Alexis Prince saw a short bit of run in the second quarter (early, I think). She committed a not-smart foul, and that was pretty much the last we saw of her. Shay Murphy blew a fast break chance that she should have had (and almost led to an enormous play for the Liberty) but showed a lot of hustle on the offensive glass. Late in the game, she was one of the few Mercury players still fighting for loose balls. I have a lot of respect for that kind of hustle. Emma Cannon was very physical, and didn’t understand why she kept getting called for fouls. To be fair to her, a lot of people didn’t understand why they were being called for fouls, on both teams. I’m not sure what differentiates her from the myriad of physical post players out there that are mostly around to pick up fouls and instill fear in the opponent.

Yvonne Turner was not afraid to shoot, and there were times that she should have been. She needs to work on knowing where the three-point line is. Leilani Mitchell was fast, and efficient. She’s ruthless on defense (she’s just too tiny). Sometimes she needs to understand that “Hey! Pick on someone your own size!” can be a caution to smaller players, not just a challenge to taller players (perhaps having her try to guard Kiah Stokes was not a good plan). Cayla George’s shot reminds me of Stacy Frese’s shot- her body arches, so that that everything is over the arc except her feet. I’m not sure where she fits, positionally. She’s stuck in the front court, but I don’t know if she’s effective there.

I’m starting to think of Weeping Angels when I see Danielle Robinson play. You can’t look away from her. You can’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. Blink and she’s off down the floor, on the fast break, and that’s two points. Look away from her and she’s going to take the ball away from you. She looks like she’s been extending the range on her jumper; maybe someday she’ll hit a three. Diana Taurasi had a hot stretch in the second quarter that I thought was going to turn the game around. She was deadly beyond the arc. You always know when she’s on the floor, and not just because of her mouth. There’s something about the way she moves on the floor that’s electric, like she still has another gear even after all these years.

Brittney Griner got off to a sort of slow start, being nudged out of her comfort zone by the Liberty defense, but started to pick up when the fouls started to mount up on the defense. She got down low and hit shots, and when she didn’t have angles she threw passes that no Liberty player could reach (though I’m not sure any 6’9” player needs to leave her feet to pass). She almost had a phenomenal tip-in off a loose ball early in the game, the kind of play even opposing fans have to admire. I don’t know if she can set a legal screen, though. Stephanie Talbot did a lot of holding inside. She was astonishingly unremarkable for a starter. Nobody is ever going to outwork Camille Little, but she’s started to reach that point in her career where she’s drifting to the perimeter offensively, and unlike many players, it doesn’t seem to be coming naturally to her. She didn’t look like she was being used to her full potential in the lineup.

I thought Phoenix gave up in the last couple of minutes. If you’re in a scenario where you really need threes, or at least consistent scoring, I would think you would want Taurasi on the floor, not Robinson. But what do I know?

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is rapidly making herself very popular among Liberty fans for her endless motor and hustle. She never gives up on a rebound. She’s always looking for a way to make a play on a loose ball. Her offense still needs polishing, but she gives us a lift right when we need it. Amanda Zahui B had all the chances in the world to get a bucket, but she just couldn’t get the shot to go down. (And I think her grandma was here, so now I’m really bummed that she didn’t have a good game.) We still need to find Rebecca Allen’s confidence, but it’s getting there. Defense still needs work, though.

Shoot the damn ball, Lindsay! Lindsay Allen is being called upon in a big way for the next couple of weeks, and she needs to find her footing in a hurry. I like her court vision, and I definitely see why people had been excited about her in the first place. She had some nifty ballhandling that made me wonder how she managed to avoid being called for a travel. I’m thinking she might develop nicely in a couple of years now. Chelsea Hopkins finished the first half as a speed counter to Phoenix’s guards. If what we did hadn’t worked, I might have gone to her more in the second half. (But since it did, I shouldn’t complain.)

Tina Charles had Brittney Griner on her most of the night, which limited what she could do at the basket, and even in the midrange. (Those long arms, man. Freakin’ crazy.) When Griner had to go out of the game in the third quarter, Tina had more opportunities at the line when Talbot and George tried (and failed) to guard her legally. Fortunately, having Griner on Tina meant that Kiah Stokes was available, and she took full advantage. The defense kept doubling and tripling Tina, or whoever had the ball, and Kiah just sneaked along the baseline for good looks. The scary part was that the looks she missed were also good looks right at the rim. Her rebounding was on point. Her defense was on point. She laid a couple of shutdown blocks, one on Cannon, one on Taurasi. What a night for her! Shavonte Zellous also seems to have found her offensive groove as well. She and Kiah had some really good passing action going on. I’m really glad Shavonte’s jumper has arrived; I guess it was held up at customs for some reason. I’m still worried her mouth is going to get her in trouble, but she can probably handle it. And who knows, maybe it’ll get someone else in trouble first.

I’m still also worried about Sugar Rodgers’s shot. Maybe that halfcourt buzzer-not-quite-beater will boost her confidence going forward, but she had open shots in this game and could not get them to go down. She’s doing a phenomenal job defensively, shaking loose balls and proceeding to make plays on them- her hands have been great. Her passing to the interior has also been pretty solid. Honestly, she seems to be doing better as the point guard in our jury-rigged lineup. Meanwhile, Bria Hartley seems more comfortable off the ball, with Sugar or Shavonte handling more of the playmaking. She’s finding shots, and she’s finding a place in the lineup. I get the feeling that if we still had Brittany Boyd, Bria would have made these strides maybe a week or so sooner, instead of having her head ripped off for not being a point guard. (And yes. Guilty as charged.)

We aren’t always going to win shootouts. As long as we consistently bring defensive intensity, we should be all right. And the Liberty’s calling card has pretty much always been defense, from day one. That’s what keeps me in love with this team.

We got the benefit of the doubt on the officiating (except for Griner swinging a forearm at Nayo, a play that didn’t even get reviewed because Cannon and {I think} Shavonte got tangled up on a potential double foul). There were plays that should have been fouls on Kiah and Shavonte. I’m not going to lie about that. The play by Rebecca Allen that led to Sugar’s halfcourt heave should probably have been a foul. I’ll take it as the balancing act it is, and I hope Coach Laimbeer has reminded them to be more careful about fouling on defense in the future.

I honestly didn’t expect to start 2-0 without Kia and Piph. I don’t know if we can keep this up. But I’m taking bets on who’s next to have a career high!

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