Back in White Plains, the Liberty broke their three-game losing steak Saturday, taking down the Los Angeles Sparks, 83-78, The big star was the first free agent signing of the Joe Tsai era, French guard Marine Johannes, who came off the bench to score 17 points in 23 minutes.
Johannes, a WNBA rookie at 24, only recently joined the team after recovering from injury and playing for France in the FIBA Europe Women’s Cup. It was her home debut.
Johannes was one of several ben.ch players who Liberty coach Katie Smith turned to after three players got into foul trouble early. Overall, New York’s bench scored 43 points.
The 5’10” guard did not miss. She was 6-of-6 overall, including 4-of-4 from three. She also made her one free throw. Known as a scorer in France, Johannes was signed in March, two months after Tsai bought the Liberty from James Dolan’s MSG.
Here’s some highlights from the first half...
’’She’s a scorer. We need production,’’ Smith told Doug Feinberg of AP. ‘’We need that to happen. We need those in the ballgame to impact the game and give a max effort. ‘’
’’Our defense was better than we did the last three games,’’ Smith added. ‘’Really pleased, we got a lot of contributions from a lot of people, pleased we got out of here with a win.’’
Johannes helped New York build a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Sparks rallied behind Chelsea Gray and Chiney Ogwumike to get to 79-78 with 17.4 seconds left. Tina Charles hit two free throws to make it a three-point game.
The Sparks (10-8) had one last chance, but Gray’s 3 from the top of the key was short after she shook off defender Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe to get an open look with 9.4 seconds left.
Charles hit two more free throws an that was that.
’’We kept putting them at the line and they got some buckets. We got good looks down the stretch in the fourth. Maybe in another game we’ll convert them,’’ said Chelsea Gray, who had 19 points and five steals for Los Angeles.
Nneka Ogwumike had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead Los Angeles.
The game got off to a slow start as both teams struggled to score. The Liberty bench provided a spark, scoring 11 points in the opening period to help New York take a 19-12 lead. The Liberty led 44-37 at the half. Johannes had 11 of her 13 points in the second quarter. She dazzled the crowd with a trio of 3-pointers, including one just before the end of half as the shot clock was winding down. The 24-year-old made all five of her shots in the first half.
The game was a foul-filled affair. New York was 27 for 39 from the free throw line. Los Angeles was just 12 for 16. Among those at the game at the Westchester County Center was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who took in the game with his family as did former Liberty player Swin Cash, who recently joined the Pelicans as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Team Development.
The Liberty travel to Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday to play Connecticut at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday in their last game before the All-Star Game on July 27. Kia Nurse, the Liberty’s Canadian point guard, will start the game while the Liberty’s power forward, veteran Tina Charles will be a reserve.