ICYMI: Liberty hang on to defeat Indiana

August 9, 2017 for The Summitt 

The Indiana Fever looked to remain hot as they traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Liberty. Indiana won an 84-82 thriller over Minnesota on Sunday, handing the three-time champions only their third loss of the season.  The Liberty returned home after going 2-3 during a five-game home stand. A win at home would do a lot to prove the Liberty can hang around for a playoff spot. After all was said and done at Madison Square Garden, here are three takeaways from the 81-76 New York win.

Bench Points

After a tough road trip, the Liberty were pushing through fatigue. To head coach Bill Laimbeer’s surprise, New York came out the gate with energy. With a ten point lead in the first quarter, Laimbeer decided to rest his starters.  The bench maintained the lead and produced 11-19 bench points in the first half.

As a unit, the bench played well and maintained the lead. However, Sugar Rodgers and Lindsay Allen are capable of more offensively. As the Liberty look to secure a playoff spot that – unlike last season – will not earn them a first round bye, more buckets from the bench will be important. Kiah Stokes led the way with 12 points and was 5-6 from the field. Rebecca Allen tallied four points in over six minutes.

The Tina Charles effect

Charles recorded 27 points and seven rebounds, showing that she is an elite player in the WNBA. Despite being the main focus of any defense, she currently averages 19.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, nearly a double-double. While the Liberty will continue to look for Charles in the paint, the team must also use her to find quality looks for shooters like Bria Hartley, Sugar Rodgers, and Rebecca Allen.

Teams have been effective in slowing Charles down for stretches of time this season. More often than not, a stall in Charles’ points is a stall in the Liberty offense. Against Indiana, the Liberty shot 37.7% from the floor and 14.3% from behind the arc.On the season, the team averages 42.4% and 32.5% in each respective category.

“[Indiana] took Tina out of the game for a large section of it there in the second half and other players have to knock down shots,” said Laimbeer after the game. Guard Bria Hartley agreed, “I don’t think we shot as well today, but those are shots we can hit. So, if we keep working on those things, trust each other and trust ourselves, I think we’ll be good.” Hartley tallied 13 points and shot 4-11 from the floor.

Wheeler’s world

Although the Fever did not come away with the win, Erica Wheeler’s performance is certainly noteworthy.  After being bounced around her rookie season (including a stint with the Liberty), Wheeler has been an impact player for the Fever in the last two seasons. The Rutgers alumna scored 33 points for a 66.7% clip from the floor, 20 of those points came in the second quarter alone.

“Erica Wheeler shot them into the game,” said head coach Bill Laimbeer in the post game press conference.  Laimbeer continued, “people don’t normally shoot that kind of percentage from the perimeter. They were all jump shots too, they weren’t layups … they were all quality jump shots that she made.”

What to watch for

The Liberty jump down to Atlanta on Friday before returning to face the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday. Hartley and Stokes are two players to watch in the next two games.

Stokes has shown she is more than a rim protector already this season. Additionally, her ability to come off the bench and agitate post players like Elizabeth Williams of Atlanta, and Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike of Los Angeles will be critical. Overall, her ability to score in double figures while grabbing rebounds will be key for the Liberty down the stretch.

Hartley’s 13 points on Tuesday marked her third straight game with double figure points. Two more would tie her career record and more importantly, help New York get through Atlanta on Friday and Los Angeles on Sunday.  Hartley is finding her place on this New York team, but she has yet to command the floor completely when Epiphany Prince and Shavonte Zellous are on the court. As the Liberty look to swing the ball more quickly and efficiently, she will need to take command at the top of the key.

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