Recently, I binged Season one and Season two of “Hacks” on HBO Max. It’s an incredible show and the lead character, Deborah Vance, gave Ava some wonderful advice one early morning:
“Piece of advice. If Kelly Ripa’s day is already over and yours hasn’t even started, you’re in trouble.”
On Thursday, the New York Liberty played host to the Las Vegas Aces. It was Camp Day at Barclays Center as all the kids from summer camps across the city got to take in a game and have some fun. The WNBA has made a point to have camp games over the past few weeks across the league as they look to make the games more accessible and enjoyable for fans of all ages. It worked as the team had a Barclays Center era high of 9,586 fans in the building today. It’s great for folks in this time zone, but for the players and fans on the West Coast, starting the game at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time threw some things off.
If you’ve had to work a morning shift when you usually do the 3-11, you know that it’s a different rhythm in the morning. The staff is different, the clientele moves a little different, you have to deviate from your regular workflow, that kind of thing. However, some of us are able to work and succeed no matter what time we clock in. The Las Vegas Aces are those kind of people.
We talked about heat checks on Tuesday, and the Aces were a team possessed on Thursday. In the first half, Vegas scored 71 points and made damn near EVERYTHING they threw up at the rim. Their shooting splits were a blistering .743/.750/.778 and it felt like shooting practice for Becky Hammon’s club every time they had the ball
Vegas made their first ten shots of the game and were locked in from tip off. The Aces won the first quarter by 24 points and were never in any danger as they cruised to a 108-74 victory. The loss was the Liberty’s third in a row overall and fourth in a row at home.
Simply put, the Liberty just didn’t provide any defensive resistance as the Aces got into their offense without much difficulty. They scored 22 of their 32 paint points in the first half as the former MVP, A’ja Wilson, scored 14 of her game high 25 points in the paint.
It was an effort problem for much of the day as the Aces simple wanted it more, as shown in that moment right there. In fact, Sandy Brondello mentioned that only Natasha Howard and Michaela Onyenwere were the only two players that competed today. Today’s effort was a surprising turn for a team that battles back and puts forth a hell of a fight even when shorthanded. Could it be a matter of making a lineup change? Who knows, but the team has a lot to figure out with 12 games left in the season.
The Liberty shot 42.4 percent from the field at half, but that obscures some very concerning news. Outside of Natasha Howard and Marine Johannes going a combined 10-14 from the field, the rest of the team went 4-19 from the field in the first 20 minutes. When you can’t get stops and can’t match the firepower on the other side, disaster is on the menu. It felt like the Liberty didn’t have the ball movement and flow we’re used to seeing, and Brondello expanded on that thought:
“I thought we took a lot of bad shots. We were trying to just will it in instead of moving the ball and making the defense work. We played right into their hands, but it was hard to change. They’re frustrated, obviously and so they should be, but we’ll watch the video and we have 12 games [left in the season]. We control our own destiny right here. What kind of time do we want to be? We have opportunities, and maybe this is the kick in the butt we really need. I hope so, I’m hoping that’s the case.”
In my day job, I work with clients and I hear a lot of depressing shit. And typically, I try to think of solutions and find the bright side of things. I had that in mind when I asked Sandy Brondello if there was something, anything, positive to take away from this game, and...
Sandy Brondello was asked what positives they could glean from today's game, and she was quiet for a moment, before giving a wry smile: "Zero. Minus. That was an absolute shit game, and I had to sit through it unfortunately." (Q: @busyxb) #OwnTheCrown #WNBA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) July 14, 2022
Yeah, it’s like that sometimes.
Outside of Natasha Howard, Michaela Onyenwere was the only other Liberty player to play with the requisite effort this morning/afternoon. She scored a season high 14 points off the bench as she was able to attack the basket and get downhill, which is something the Liberty team needs a lot more of going forward.
In postgame, we asked Mic about her getting to the rim, and she told us
“I think it’ super important. Sometimes in the matchup, I’m playing at the four and I’m able to have a little bit of a quickness advantage for who’s guarding me and so I’m able to use that to my advantage, get into the paint, and if I’m not able to score, be able to kick out and draw the defense, that helps the team. We have really great shooters, just to create a mismatch in that way. That’s one thing I can take advantage of moving forward in the season.”
Brondello has mentioned that she wants to see the team attack the basket, and having players that can do so like Onyenwere and Rebecca Allen will be essential to opening up that part of the Liberty’s offense.
Keep your head up
A couple times in May, the Liberty have been on the receiving end of gnarly blowouts. The last one came at the hands of the Seattle Storm on May 29, and from there the Liberty turned things around and fought back to get into the playoff race. We asked Sami Whitcomb about how the team can maintain the hope that thy can still accomplish their goals despite the rough losses. Here’s what she told us:
“We’ve faced moments like this this season. We’ve faced moments like this last season. So I think it’s making sure that we learn from them. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for us to, like I said individually, figure out what it is, watch the film collectively as well which I know we’ll do, and find our takeaways. I think we know it’s gotta be more on that defensive end and bringing, like Michaela said, that sense of urgency from the tip. And part of this is looking at ourselves and figuring what we need to do that because there’s only so much someone can say to motivate you. We have to have that inner motivation, has to be intrinsic as well. So I think the break will be hopefully good for us. We can regroup, still look forward, and again just remember what our goals are and how we wanna get there.”
Onyenwere added that having consistency is key, especially after this series against the Aces. When you go up against an elite team, they tend to expose your flaws. In response, you have to work to address those flaws, build upon your strengths, and keep pushing the rock up hill. We’ve seen the Liberty bounce back before, and we’ll see if they can do it again.
Marine Johannes and Han Xu have both been absolutely electric in their second WNBA seasons. They’ve had moments where they’ve stunned the league with their great plays and spellbinding highlights. However, they’ve both been playing year round all year long for a long time and they’ve taken a dip in their play recently. As we saw on that Wilson layup up top, teams are working to make Han run and play in space. Brondello expanded on their struggles and said:
Sandy Brondello: "Teams have scouted them now, that's what it comes down to. Han, they've gotten physical and into her space. Marine, she's just overthinking. She can still score against everybody... they've taken a dip, and we need them." (Q: @ClassicJpow) #OwnTheCrown #WNBA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) July 14, 2022
Johannes played a WNBA season low 17:36 and played her lowest amount of minutes since she played 15:09 against Hatayspor in the Eurocup women’s playoffs as a member of LDLC ASVEL Feminin on December 15, 2021. The Liberty have five days off and are staying on the East Coast, which should do Johannes and her teammates plenty of good.
In pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that Betnijah Laney has been progressing in her recovery and the team hopes to begin her ramp up soon. Jocelyn Willoughby has been scrimmaging and the team is hoping to have her back as soon as Tuesday. The team can use another good defender and Willoughby will provide them with some more depth and physicality.
The Liberty will be on the morning shift for the next week as they’re back at it on Tuesday against the Connecticut Sun. Tip is after 11:00 a.m. ET.