It’s a beautiful thing when everything starts coming together. The rhythm is just right, the timing is there, and you’re feeling the groove. Once you’re in that space, the sky is the limit.
On Friday night, the New York Liberty were in Indianapolis hoping to get another W against the Indiana Fever. The job for the Libs got a lot harder when Rebecca Allen collided with Victoria Vivians two minutes into the game and left with an injury. Bec was ruled out with a chin laceration, but was able to return to the bench to watch the rest of the game. In postgame, Sandy Brondello said Allen was doing OK and just a bit shaken up. It was a team effort as the Libs came away with the W, 97-83. The team is now at 5-8 and have won four out of their last five games.
Without Allen, the team initially struggled as they had to get themselves back in gear. After a back and forth first half, the Liberty turned on the jets and used a blistering third quarter to pull ahead. Natasha Howard was the focal point of the offense as she repeatedly took it to 2022 first round pick, Emily Engstler.
On the night, Tash led all scorers with 25 points along with ten rebounds and five assists. Howard’s ability to anchor the offense while also making the right pass to set her teammates up will turn the Liberty into one of the best offenses in the league. Howard also set the tone on defense for the Liberty as her 10 rebounds led the team on the evening.b= Sandy Brondello has challenged Howard to do more and her championship big has met the challenge thus far.
On the night, the Libs handed out a season high 31 assists. The Fever through a series of traps and hard hedged Sabrina Ionescu pick and rolls, but the team was able to counter it and have success handling it. In the post, we asked Brondello about how her young star was able to handle the coverage:
“I think she’s seen so many different coverages and I kinda gave her the heads up. Surely teams are gonna start trapping her again and at times we were telling her to move it a bit quicker. Other times, she backed it out and making simple passes, but she’s playing with a lot of confidence now. She’s been great the past four or five games with her ability to score so I think it’s just natural. But if others can score, that will help her as we move forward and that’s critical for us. Overall, she still had 13-7-6, so it’s a pretty good night. I suppose when she’s been scoring in the 20s, we always expect that. I think she handled it well. I think at the start of the third quarter, we got her off ball, we got her some action where it was harder to trap and she got it going a little bit, being able to score without two people on her all the time. She handled it well and we gotta grow because we expect more.”
Welcome back, MJ!
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Marine Johannes rocking the seafoam. Johannes returned to the team a few days ago after the team traded AD to the Atlanta Dream. Before the game, Sandy Brondello spoke about Johannes and said:
“Athleticism. Creativity. Be able to get out and run. She’ll increase our pace a little bit. We won’t be able to play her too much tonight. She’s only just hit the ground and we’re updating her with how we wanna play. But you will see her and I think she’ll get more confidence as we go along, but it allows us to be a little more creative. She’s a player that can break down defenses, too, and that’s a kind of player we don’t have with her one-on-one ability.”
With Allen out, the plan changed for the Liberty and MJ wound up playing 23 minutes. It worked out like a charm as Johannes dazzled with 11 points and six assists. With MJ on the court, the Liberty have another ball handler and shot creator. They also have someone who can do stuff like this:
If you’re open, Johannes will find you. Having someone who can operate off the bounce like she does and get downhill will be critical as the competition steps up in difficulty for the Liberty.
It’s star time
In a case of déjà Xu (shouts to the amazing Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr and Nets Republic for that one!), Han Xu did it again. The young Liberty big set another career high, this time with 16 points on 6-8 shooting from the field. Han was masterful as she helped displayed her customary soft touch around the basket and helped space the floor for her teammates
One subtle thing Han did throughout the game was calling for her teammates to make their entry passes in the post higher. At 6’10, Han can tower over everyone in the league and with her deft touch near the basket, is a perfect target for Ionescu, Johannes, and the other Liberty players. Han is growing more confident by the second and if they can continue to make timely passes to her, she’ll reward them with buckets.
Also, Han had the play of the night on defense
Like all of us who watched at home and in the arena (!!), Brondello was in awe of her 22 year old big:
Sandy Brondello: "How good is Han?! I'm so happy for her, because she's always smiling and enjoying, playing with the right energy... the threes, the blocks, that was fantastic. It's nice to have her scoring punch and a defensive anchor in the paint." (Q: @busyxb) #OwnTheCrown— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 11, 2022
Han, via her translator was asked about her improvement on defense and said:
“In the first half, she gave up a lot of rebounds and she said that she wasn’t playing that well and during halftime, coach emphasized that we have to protect the rebounds. In the second half, she came out strong and she reminded herself that she has to get the rebounds to set the tone on defense.”
With Han getting more comfortable and confident, she can be the perfect bench option and more for this team.
The Liberty are back home to take on the reigning champions, the Chicago Sky, on Sunday afternoon. Tip will be after 2 p.m.