Friday, August 11, 2017

August 8th, 2017: Indiana at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty survived a career night from Erica Wheeler and a strong comeback from the Indiana Fever to come away with an 81-76 win. Tina Charles had 26 points to lead four Liberty players in double figures. Wheeler’s 33 points led all scorers.

For outside shooting, fight scenes, and random encounters, join your intrepid blogger after jump.

Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and well-mannered non-binary folk! We’re coming to you from the familiar confines of Madison Square Garden, where the New York Liberty are hosting the Indiana Fever for their first home game in entirely too long.

How long has it been? I was planning Legendary raids today because I forgot it was game day.

(That being said, never let it be said good karma is not a thing. Did three hours of volunteer work today. Caught my first Lugia to complete the legendary set.)

It’s halftime of Garden of Dreams night, which means that we’re watching various young and talented teens and kidlets perform. So far the young dancer in the middle has been my favorite, though the singer who’s closing out the performance is rapidly rocketing up the charts. She’s carrying off Carole King pretty well.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 46-40, though the Fever have been on a run. Tina Charles is doing Tina Charles things. My vision is a little blurry, but I think she has 18 points and five rebounds. Erica Wheeler is dishing out vengeance to the Liberty, with 20 of the Fever’s 40 (and Candice Dupree has another 10 of the remaining 20, so, uh, I think I know where our defense needs to focus). We’ve seen a lot of the Liberty bench, which has had its good moments and its bad moments.

I don’t like the new song choice for the intro video. Can I have Beyoncé back, please?

Amanda Zahui B got so mad at a non-call in the paint (while she was on the bench, to clarify) that her hair exploded.

Hi, Neika! Stopped for dinner and ran into Shenneika Smith, slayer of Huskies and bad-ass Reggae Girl. (At least I assume the basketball teams use the same nickname as the soccer teams.)

That was closer than it needed to be, and I think we need to get to work on our perimeter defense. Unless that was all part of the cunning plan, in which case I don’t like the cunning plan.

Marissa Coleman did a thing! From everything I’ve been hearing, I gather this is a thing I should be surprised at, but she took advantage of her height over her defender and scored deep in the paint. That was really it. Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga played briefly, caused hesitation on the part of our PA guy, and got knocked around by everyone, including her own teammates. (There was a whole lot of Stanford-based violence going on in one first-half sequence involving Shavonte Zellous, Pohlen-Mavunga, and Erica McCall. I think either Kia or Kiah was in on it too.) Erica McCall seemed to find her stride in the second half, using her build more effectively and getting looks from the midrange. She has some of her sister’s gawkiness, though it's less pronounced with her stockier build.

Erlana Larkins brought physicality down low, including a big block on Kiah Stokes. She was in good position a lot for rebounding and boxing out. She had trouble finishing over the taller defenders that the Liberty threw at her, though. She took a lot of contact, and more than a little of it should have been called. Jazmon Gwathmey looked a lot like her old self from JMU- aggressive offensively, both inside and on the perimeter, and not afraid to take contact on the glass. She really seems to have come into her own in Indiana, and I’m really happy for her- she took a lot of unwarranted heat for being the other end of the Jia Perkins trade (it’s not her fault Perkins wanted out of San Antonio). I’m having trouble putting my finger on it, but she seems more comfortable more assertive, more in the flow and rhythm of the game on both ends of the floor.

My goodness, Erica Wheeler, have yourself a day and a night, why don’t you? I still maintain that that last three-pointer she hit should have been ruled a 2, but it ultimately wouldn’t have mattered and I really shouldn’t be petty like that. Tonight, she was the player we expected Sugar to be- lethal from outside, fearless on the inside, a pesky gnat on defense. We left her open, and she made us pay over and over again. Superb game from her. Briann January was tenacious defensively, and you can definitely see her martial arts background in the way she uses her feet. It's not just what I’m sure is an accidental tendency to trip people, but the fact that her feet are constantly in motion. She seems to have more body awareness than most people, and I know that comes from her mad leet black belt skillz. Tiffany Mitchell in the three-guard set did not have a good night- the rims were especially unkind to her, even when she had good looks, and I wonder if the hit to the face in their last game discouraged her from mixing it up too much on defense. Gwathmey gave them more inside while not losing most of the perimeter threat, so it's no wonder Gwathmey got the minutes.

Candice Dupree is so ridiculously smooth. The new hair is taking some time to get used to (hey, someone rocks the same look for 10 years, it's hard to adjust). The defense seemed to key on her in the second half, showing a whole bunch of different looks- I remember more than one possession where Bria Hartley or Epiphanny Prince worked on her on the perimeter. She and Tina Charles were going at it on the inside, and she definitely got the worst of it- I don’t know how the forearm Tina put into her throat wasn’t called anything. Natalie Achonwa got off to a good early start, but I think picking up the second foul fairly early in the game threw her off, and facing physical Liberty defense didn’t help. She had fantastic inside position on offensive rebounds- in general, the Fever posts did a good job sealing off the Liberty posts on inside rebounds.

I love how possessive Rebecca Allen is when she gets rebounds. She brings the ball down and wraps it in both arms like she’s about to start calling it her Precious. I am less in love with the stepping on the baseline thing, especially twice in a game. The lines are bright orange, Bec, how are you missing them? I have to look up how old she is later, because I know what her play is reminding me of now- a college player who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of her body yet and is like “Holy cow, I can do these things now!” Amanda Zahui B actually had a pretty good run in the first half, with a sweet pass to set up Rebecca Allen for a bucket in the lane. She took a hard fall and got up slowly, so I think whatever progress was made on the health of her back just reversed. I suspect that’s why we didn’t see her in the second half, unless there’s some kind of weird Canadian-Swedish treaty I haven’t heard about. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe got the second half forward minutes, but did nothing of note with them.

Some of the shots Sugar Rodgers has been taking have been so ill-advised and so off-target that I’m starting to wonder if she needs to have her vision checked. I love the energy she brings on defense, but she needs to be a two-way player if she’s going to be the linchpin of our bench squad. One floater in the lane comes to mind as a particularly misguided attempt to channel Mark Jackson. Lindsay Allen helped speed up the tempo- when she was at point, there was a lot more ball movement. I’d love to crunch the numbers with both her and Shavonte on the floor; my theory is that it would show both more possessions per however-many units of time these things are measured in, and better plus/minus. She had a beautiful pass to Kiah Stokes cutting in the paint. Kiah was a rock down low, finishing the easy looks she got (there were at least two occasions where she was able to cut into a wide open lane with no defenders in sight) and defending well at the other end. It was the kind of performance we need to see consistently from her. (Though I’d like to see more rebounds. The offensive rebounding is nice, but the total is underwhelming.)

Shavonte Zellous has metaphorical cojones of steel. She took hit after hit, including one we were almost certain either rang her bell or did something to her neck, and kept getting up again. She was fiery on the court, and even if her shots weren’t going down, she was making things happen with her drives to the lane and mad dashes for rebounds. She brought an unreal amount of energy to the floor- it was glorious. Tina Charles should probably wipe her hands after she’s had a long rest- there was a fourth-quarter sequence where two passes slipped through her hands. I think she’s starting to wear down from the minute load, and it’s showing in the second halves of games. She’s a beast down low, and her perimeter game is a nice change of pace, but it seems like she’s been relying more and more heavily on the midrange game than on the inside game. I get that she needs to put less strain on herself, but that’s not how to do it. Kia Vaughn moves around a lot on the floor, but there never seem to be good results out of it. I like the occasional hook shot, but she misses it more than she makes it. There’s a reason she’s not on the floor in crunch time- there actually appear to be several reasons.

Bria Hartley is one of the most up-and-down, love-hate players we’ve had on the Liberty in a long time. She has moments of brilliance when she hits big shots, and she has moments of exasperation when she bricks open lay-ups. Her defense needs a lot of work- you could see the team trying to hide her on rotations. It didn’t go well, especially with both Piph and Sugar struggling. She slows the game down too much, and she seems very hesitant when she’s making decisions on offense. I’m not fond of that. I question Epiphanny Prince’s decisions with the ball, too; it seems like she holds it too long too often instead of passing, and then tries to do too much herself instead of looking for her teammates. Have you tried not painting yourself into corners, Piph? She has the ability to create her own shot, but it seems like she doesn’t use it often enough.

Free throws won this game for us, and I’m not afraid to say that we got the better of most of the dubious officiating. (How dubious was it? Garden graphics gave one ref’s name as Sue Blaugh instead of Blauch.) There was a lot of contact on both teams that wasn’t called, but the Liberty gave more and got less called.

Speaking of physical play... I don’t know what exactly went down, but there was some kind of altercation in the general admission stands. I think everyone on our side of halfcourt was looking over. There were most definitely shenanigans. Security was all up in there.

I don’t understand people who stomp out of a close game in the last minute, as if it offends them that people are getting into it.

Perimeter defense. This is a thing we need to work on. We’ll get there, I’m sure. But we need everyone to be the players we know they can be.

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