Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 1st, 2015: Atlanta at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Sugar Rodgers snapped out of a funk in style, notching 23 points in the Liberty's 80-75 overtime win over Atlanta. Kiah Stokes anchored the defense with four blocks and four steals to go with 10 points and seven boards.

For a Sugar crush, KIAH SMASH PUNY ANGEL SHOT, shrill griefing, aprons at last, grit, defense, so much contact, rescheduling travel, mismatches, and a wide selection of Cheesy Musical Hooks, join your intrepid and hungry blogger after the jump.

Greetings, Earthlings! We're coming down the home stretch of the 2015 season, and the Eastern Conference regular season title is in the New York Liberty's sights. But first they'll have to get past the Atlanta Dream.

We'll see how leaving the office half an hour earlier goes. It's not entirely by my own choice- how you decide to hold massive, marathon training sessions without a conference room, I'll never know, but as the saying goes, ours is not to question why.

I think they're starting to run out of good singers. The anthem and "God Bless America" were both pretty lackluster.

If this girl behind me doesn't stop cheering every Atlanta basket, I will not be responsible for my actions.

Love Sugar Rodgers's aqua physio-tape. Almost in Liberty colors.

The dancers who have done both pregame and halftime are at least dressed and competent.

At the half, the Liberty are up four, 41-37. I'll take it. Epiphanny Prince has been bothered all night, but Sugar Rodgers has stepped up, and Tina gonna Tina. Atlanta's been playing very tough defense, especially in the post. I think this "bring your superstar off the bench" thing that Atlanta's trying might just catch on. (Well, it's what I always said the Liberty should do with Becky instead of wedging her into the point guard spot...)

Atlanta played the better game for 35 minutes. New York played the better game for the final 10. I know we've beaten the Dream four times out of five and were one horrific free throw shooting performance away from a sweep, but we still match up really, really badly with them. They're a tough defensive team that defends the paint well and blitzes the passing lanes, taking away two of our strengths. But while they had a defense, we had a Sugar, and Sugar SMASH (or possibly Sugar CRUSH).

Sydney Carter got a fair amount of run to start the even quarters. She had a pretty floater in the lane that reminded me a little of Mark Jackson in his glory days. It amuses me that she ran the stretching during warm-ups, and not a trainer or anything like that. She's not going to be much of an offensive option, which takes away from the total Atlanta offense. Matee Ajavon continues to annoy me, but she ran a decent point and had a wicked crossover for a good shot.

DeLisha Milton-Jones: no minutes in the first half, first off the bench in the second half. Oh, Cooper, don't ever stop being strange and inscrutable. Her long arms were very active on defense, but she was not in for her offense- her only shot was a long three that I think came near the end of the shot clock. Reshanda Gray was physical, but again, I don't think she looked to assert herself offensively (and she should have been called for tripping Candice Wiggins on the sideline). Angel McCoughtry came off the bench about five minutes in and I don't think she sat down after that. Coming off the bench almost seems to be good for her- she comes in like a spring uncoiling, starting fast and staying strong. She had jumpers, lots of jumpers, but she was also super-quick on the passing lanes. I don't always like her attitude, but I can't deny her talent.

Shoni Schimmel looked more like the player Atlanta drafted, but she still looks a little- lost is not the right word, but like she's trying too hard to stick rigidly to the playbook. There was a play in the first half she almost blew because she stayed precisely where the pass was supposed to be, even though Sugar had read it like a book. Sticking rigidly to the playbook is not Schimmel's strength, and I don't think she's earning Cooper's trust despite it- when the chips were down, Ajavon was in the game. Tiffany Hayes is a drama queen and she annoys me. I do appreciate her doing the big upswept hair thing, only if because it makes it easier to spot her from further up in the stands. She goes hard, but I'm not sure if she knows the line between going hard and playing too rough.

I love Sancho Lyttle's game. You absolutely can't pass over the top on her, she stretches the defense with jumpers, and she can score at the basket. She's a defensive maven, one of the best there has been in the league. But she gets bent out of shape even when she's trying to get a foul call, and I think it's a miracle she hasn't gotten a technical for all the complaining she does. Aneika Henry came up with a lot of big plays at the basket, boxing out and grabbing boards. Damiris Dantas played limited minutes, and looked more than a little lost out there. I think that's why Cooper went with Henry more down the stretch.

Brittany Boyd still needs to maybe not mainline espresso before the game- she needs to realize there are speeds other than "go very fast". She brought hustle, and the cold-blooded three-pointer, but still didn't seem to be in the flow of the game. Candice Wiggins brought defensive hustle, but her shot was way off. To compound it, she did realize her shot was off- but not that Carolyn Swords was doing even worse and was not ready for her passes. There were at least two turnovers from that connection. Sugar Rodgers had herself a game. What I like about Sugar is that when she's comfortable, she feels like she can take smarter chances on defense- she's always a gambler on D, but she doesn't seem to be as reckless when she doesn't think she has as much to prove. She brought a dimension to our offense that the Atlanta D could not handle

And on the other side of the floor, they could not handle the Kiah. Kiah Stokes was a beast on defense. She came up with nifty steals on the baseline to snag rebounds from Atlanta players. She had onster blocks. She came through the backdoor, shutting it for Atlanta and running through it for New York. That young woman deserves a year-end award of some type. I don't care whether it's ROY, DPOY, or 6W. She needs to have her hard work noticed by the league. Essence Carson hit a three! An actual, no-doubt, well behind the line three! But I'm worried about her defense. She's still missing a step that she used to have. Granted, guarding Angel McCoughtry is not an easy task even for the best and healthiest defender out there.

Epiphanny Prince had a rough night from the field, but still came up with one shot-clock-beater, plus some good defense. And her teammates stepped up around her, which is really the best part of this team. It's always "next man up". Or woman, as the case may be, but I still believe in the gender-neutral usage of man, despite it being part of the patriarchal structure of our language. Tanisha Wright had shots falling short all night, but she hit clutch free throws late and came up with big defensive plays. I feel like there's a trend here. T was the heroine of the OT, IMO.

Carolyn Swords had a rough night. Couldn't keep the ball in her hands for a fair amount of it. She did most of her damage on the boards early. Swin Cash, I felt, was our most effective defender on McCoughtry, but because of the rotations and the way Sugar was playing, she didn't get a lot of minutes. Tina Charles got off to a good start, but Atlanta brought pressure and double-teams, forcing her into a lot of bad shots and longer shots. She's still damn tough, though.

It was not a pretty game. It was a game with a lot of contact. It was a game with a lot of fouls called and a lot of fouls that could easily have been called. I don't envy Denise Brooks and Tony Dawkins working with a rookie referee. (I also don't envy them working with a rookie referee who looked like he had a chip on his shoulder the whole night because he's shorter than most of the players- dude is about Piph's height.) It was nice to have the calls finally going in our favor.

That length of sweater is very flattering on Roneeka Hodges.

Smaller crowd than the last few games, but that's to be expected for a mid-week game against an opponent with no real local draw, with school starting, especially since Atlanta is not good.

On to Chicago. The magic number is 2. With a little help from our friends, Thursday night might clinch the regular season conference title. Go Libs.

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