Even with the losses piling up, you see the glimpses of brilliance. A beautiful possession here, pressure defense leading to a fast break opportunity there, etc. When things are going well, you see the vision the organization has for the team in 2022 and going forward. However, if you don’t put a complete game together, the wins won’t be there at the end. It’s a difficult lesson for teams to get through, and for the New York Liberty, it’s a lesson they’re still learning now.
As for now, they have the worst record in the WNBA — 1-5 — a major disappointment after an off-season filled with hope and plenty of moves.
On Tuesday night, they hit the road to take on the Minnesota Lynx as they began a three game road trip. After a bumpy first quarter, the Liberty gradually got themselves back into the game and had a chance to come away with the win. They held an eight point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the offense went cold as the Lynx made a living at the free throw line on their way back to an 84-78 victory.
The Liberty started off slow as they allowed the Lynx to score 34 points on a blistering 75 percent from the field.
The slow starts have been an unfortunate staple for the Liberty throughout this WNBA season, but they were able to get back into this game with their defense. They got themselves back into the game in the second quarter by holding the Lynx to only 4-18 shooting from the field and most importantly, only two free throw attempts.
On the evening, the Lynx won the free throw battle 33-18. That was a result of the Lynx driving to the basket more and the Liberty not executing enough on defense late as they kept committing fouls. Sandy Brondello mentioned that the team made some bad fouls that went against the game plan. The discipline is there, and the fundamentals are there, so it’s just a matter of putting all of the pieces together.
For the Liberty, Natasha Howard led all scorers with 23 points on a .667/.500/.833 shooting split. When the Liberty offense is firing on all cylinders, it can look as beautiful as this:
When Sabrina Ionescu is attacking downhill, she can always draw defenders to her as they are concerned with her finishing ability at the rim. With the defense collapsing, she’s also a good enough and unselfish passer that can find her open teammates, and they’ll swing the ball to get the best shot possible.
We asked Howard what was the biggest positive from this game the team can take going forward, she mentioned doing a better job on the boards (they only lost the battle of the boards, which is a MAJOR step forward from where they’ve been so far this season), being disciplined on both sides of the ball, and keep pushing the pace.
In her second game of the season and first not dealing with jetlag, Rebecca Allen was assertive and aggressive looking for her shot. She finished with 21 points with four made three pointers, two steals, and a block in 33 minutes of play. With the injuries affecting the team (more on that in a moment), Bec will have a lot more on her plate going forward and will draw the full attention of the defense when she has it going like she did in the third quarter. Aerial Powers explained what the Lynx did differently down the stretch against Allen:
“We switched our defense to a no-help on Allen because she was kind of shooting it unconsciously, like she wasn’t even thinking about it. Once the ball was touching her hands she was shooting it and she was making her shots. I mean, that was a big, big stop because she was kind of on fire and we had to kind of put that out so we did a good job. [Kayla McBride] did a good job helping. Everybody did a good job when we had her.”
In the postgame, we asked about the team’s pace, and here’s what she said:
Bec Allen on pace (18 points off TOs): "The transition points, it all comes from the defense. Us making an adjustment from the first and locking in, playing tougher, that allowed us to get those fast break points. When they're missing, that's when you can run." (Q: @busyxb) #WNBA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 25, 2022
The Liberty look great when they force turnovers, get on the go, and get easy buckets in transition. Allen in particular will be essential to the team’s plans as she is a player that can heat up at a moment’s notice and use her length to disrupt opposing offenses.
The Han Xu show
Han Xu got a lot of playing time in her return from a non-COVID illness. Han was wonderful in her 21 minutes as she scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked two shots . Xu is instant offense coming off of the bench and you can see her gaining more confidence by the minute.
In the postgame, Sandy Brondello spoke about Han’s ceiling and said:
“It showed the potential that she does have. I think she was a little bit nervous going against Sylvia Fowles. That’s one of her heroes. She has no hesitation. I was really, really proud of her. She continues to grow and learn, and her teammates continue to learn from her, how effective she can be, both inside and outside. She’s getting opportunities, she’s going to continue to get opportunities, she’s gonna continue to grow. She’s got a really high ceiling and she’ll get more comfortable knowing all these players in the league.”
Allen also spoke on Han’s improvement from 2019 and said:
“I think even just seeing the way she uses her arms more. She’s obviously got that height on her side and a massive wingspan and it’s learning how to use it, and also in this league, using it without fouling, too. I think everyone can clearly see a big jump and even just the confidence in her taking the shot. I think that whenever we get her the ball, especially in that [pick and] pop, it’s something that you almost know for sure is gonna go in. That and her rebounding game, you can see that it’s definitely been a lot of strides taken there for her.”
Han and Dolson make for an intriguing big combo. Dolson is able to draw a lot of defenders to her when she rolls after setting picks, which opens things up for the Liberty’s perimeter shooters. Han is growing into an automatic bucket each time she checks in. The more reps Han gets with Sami Whitcomb, Ionescu, etc., the faster her game will continue to improve.
In the pregame availability, Sandy Brondello reported that Betnijah Laney will miss this three game road trip due to a knee injury and is staying back in New York. Per Brondello:
“Her knee is not great. We’re still trying to work out what the process is from here. There’s no decision being made, and until that happens, there’s really not much information I can give.”
Lorela Cubaj also missed this game as she is in day two of concussion protocol. Concussions are tricky to navigate and Cubaj had a minor setback while in protocol, so we’ll see when Cubaj is able to return to the court.
The Liberty will be back in action as they’ll be taking on the Seattle Storm on a back-to-back set before coming back. Late night affair on Friday night so the party will get started after 10:00 p.m. ET
- Box Score: Minnesota Lynx 84, New York 78 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: Minnesota Lynx 84, New York 78 (Video) - WNBA
- Sylvia Fowles with 14 points, 14 rebounds (Video) - WNBA
- Lynx find defensive passion in season’s first win at home against Liberty - Paul Hodowanic - St. Paul Pioneer-Press