Fatigue can be a monster. When you’re running out of gas, you make uncharacteristic mistakes and have momentary slips that cause you to lose focus. Once you’re fatigued, you fall behind. It takes time to regain your equilibrium, but when you’re on the clock, you don’t have as much time as you’d like to get back to normal. And soon enough, time runs out.
The New York Liberty got into Phoenix at 4 a.m. Thursday morning to take on the Mercury later that evening. In pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that the team traveled by bus from Vegas after their win last night to make it town for this contest. They had to do that because, as the Liberty know all too well, WNBA policy surrounding charter flights is dumb as hell and detrimental to the product. The league has said they’ll address the issue, but they haven’t said anything publicly about it since earlier this spring. Of course, they could help the cause by not scheduling back-to-back away games, but that hasn’t happened. Fortunately for the Liberty, they only have one more back-to-back left, but it’ll be at home against the same opponent. Small miracles, I suppose.
With that as the backdrop, the Phoenix Mercury took full advantage of the Liberty’s slow start as they jumped out to a 13 point lead at the end of the first quarter. If you recall last season’s playoff matchup between the two teams, Sophie Cunningham was a thorn in New York’s side as her 21 points prevented the Liberty from pulling off the upset. She was back to her pestering ways tonight as she scored one less point (17) in the first quarter than the Liberty did as a team combined (18).
The Liberty started to find themselves as they fought back and played with the hustle and spirit that we know them for
As they battled back, they got it to as close as one point late, but couldn’t get all the way over the hump. With a chance to tie on the final possession with 3.6 seconds on the clock, the Liberty couldn’t get a shot at the basket as the Mercury switched on defense and the players didn’t have enough time to get a shot up at the rim.
Fatigue shows itself in a lot of ways, and it showed in the Liberty’s 15 turnovers. A bunch of them were of the careless variety and Phoenix made them pay for it with 20 points off of those turnovers. You can’t afford to make as many mistakes as the Liberty did tonight and with a game as close as this one was, mistakes on the margins hit even harder.
Even with those mistakes and the tough hand they were dealt, the Liberty fought all game long and didn’t hang their heads once they got down big. Even on tired legs, the team gradually picked themselves up and gave themselves a puncher’s chance. A few breaks here and there, and they would’ve stolen the win.
Second half Didi
For the second straight game, Sandy Brondello started the second half with Didi Richards in favor of Crystal Dangerfield. Richards gave the team some physical defense and great rebounding as she took turns guarding Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. She and Michaela Onyenwere gave the team a burst of energy coming off the bench as their hustle and toughness kept their teammates in the game. In postgame, Sandy Brondello spoke about her dynamic duo and said:
“They’re getting better and better. They haven’t had much court time, and you see they’re getting more rhythm in what we’re trying to do.”
Brondello mentioned that she’s been riding her big three a bit too much and will try to count on her bench to keep things going. With Richards improving by the day and reinforcements due back soon, sky’s the limit.
Sandy Brondello was asked about the potential returns of Rebecca Allen and Jocelyn Willoughby. For Allen, the team wanted to play it safe and give her a few more days to rest up with the All Star break here. Allen has been dealing with the effects of a concussion she suffered at the beginning of June and took a blow to the head on Sunday afternoon. The hope is she’ll be back to action on Tuesday evening.
For Willoughby, it’s a little bit longer as the team will start building her up in 5-on-5 drills to get her ready for her return. With Willoughby on the way and Allen right around the corner, the Liberty will have more size on the perimeter and more players that can attack and get to the basket.
Almost got ‘em
Sabrina Ionescu didn’t have the greatest night tonight (7-of-18 from the field with six turnovers), but she turned up in the fourth quarter and played at an All-Star level down the stretch. Sab scored 14 of her team high 22 points in the fourth as she hit a bevy of threes to keep the Liberty within striking distance. This one in the waning moments got the Liberty to within one point as chaos reigned
Sab’s three reminded me of a similar shot in basketball history
In the postgame, we asked Ionescu about the big picture coming out of the break:
“We’re just gonna continue to get better and control the controllables and do what we can - every single practice, every single game - to learn and grow. We’re not really looking too far ahead on the standings and where we’re at, wins and losses. It’s really just about where we’re at in the moment and how we can continue to get better and learn through the process.”
For as improved as the Liberty were in June and July, they still have plenty of room to grow and get better. With some well deserved time off and a chance to recharge, the team will look to grow and build upon their recent successes.
The team gets a well deserved break as we are officially in the All Star break. The Liberty will be back home on Tuesday night against the Las Vegas Aces. Tip of after 7:00 p.m. ET.