There’s never a good time to lose. You want to win every day and build more for the future. Everyone loses every now and then, it’s a part of life. However, certain losses are just simply inexcusable.
On Saturday night, the New York Liberty began their four-game road trip with a tilt against the Phoenix Mercury. Just prior to tip-off, it was announced that Diana Taurasi would miss this game with a quadriceps injury. Also, Skylar Diggins-Smith was announced as out as she is dealing with a non-COVID illness. With Phoenix missing their two stars, everything pointed in the Liberty’s direction for a victory. That didn’t happen and the Liberty took an unacceptable loss that will have major ramifications in their chase for the playoffs.
The big story coming out of this game is Natasha Howard. In the third quarter, Tash landed on Megan Gustafon’s ankle after a jump hook in the third quarter. She was ruled out for the rest of the night with a right ankle injury and on the YES Network feed, Howard was seen on crutches heading back to the locker room as the team was walking off the court at the end of the game. The team and Liberty fans are hoping this injury isn’t severe and Tash is able to get back on the court ASAP.
When the Liberty beat the Mercury last week, they dominated the boards. This time around, the Mercury outrebounded the Liberty 40-35, which is shocking when you consider how undermanned and undersized they are. Phoenix grabbed nine offensive rebounds, as they simply outhustled and outworked the Liberty on too many possessions tonight.
The Mercury played physically and beat the Liberty to spots time and time again. Han Xu in particular had a rough go of it as she only grabbed one rebound in 12 minutes and missed some close shots at the rim. The Liberty need more from Han and she’s got to be able to overcome the increased physicality from opponents.
Diamond DeShields took on a lot of the responsibilities with her teammates out, and she delivered with a season high of 25 points to go along with eight rebounds. She got downhill a ton as the Liberty struggled to stay in front of her.
In postgame, Sandy Brondello was direct when assessing her team tonight:
“We did not come ready to play, and it’s really, really disappointing because at this time of the year, you expect that they have a better fight here. None of us, I can’t even say anyone was good for us tonight, and that’s disappointing. But credit to Phoenix. They’re down really key players, but they really came to play and made it really hard for us.”
There have been times when the Liberty have taken losses that boggle the mind. This loss is at the top of the pile and comes at the absolute WORST time imaginable. A game like this should never happen and for a team that knows and has played better, this loss and the way they lost should cause everyone to reflect on what went wrong and how they can get back on the good track immediately. There’s no more room for mistakes and lackluster games where the effort isn’t there. This is it.
Missed shots, missed opportunity
On the season, the Liberty have been a pretty solid team from three point range. They’re usually good shots, but Sandy Brondello has continue to stress the importance of going from good shots to great shots. On the night, the team shot 7-32 from three point range as shots just weren’t falling tonight. Sandy Brondello talked about those struggles and said:
Sandy Brondello: "We missed a lot of open shots. We became a jump shooting team, we didn't play inside-outside... we had to have a better balance. Not just postups, but penetration as well." (Q: @busyxb) #OwnTheCrown #WNBA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 7, 2022
Sabrina Ionescu was more direct about things and said:
Sabrina Ionescu on Phoenix's defense: "They didn’t do anything. They did the same defense they have the last two times we played them. The ball didn’t go in tonight, and we didn’t adjust. And we didn’t come out ready to play tonight. When you combine that, we lose." @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 7, 2022
Yeah, bad all around. When you take a look at their attempts, a lot of them were, while open, just rushed attempts when something better might have been on the table.
Sandy and the players have talked before about the importance of not trying to make homerun plays all the time, and it felt like the team reverted back to some bad habits tonight. When the Liberty offense worked tonight, it was when they moved the ball around or attacked the basket by penetrating.
Just do what you do well and the results will follow. Any time you try to get every thing back at once, you only set yourself up for trouble.
A saving grace
The game did feature a record-setting performance. Sabrina Ionescu recorded her 200th 200th assist of the season, making her the first player in WNBA history to record 500-plus points, 200-plus rebounds and 200-plus assists in a season.
Welcome back, Betnijah
When you’ve been gone for a while, it takes some time to get back to where you want to be. Betnijah Laney returned to the court after undergoing knee surgery in June. She only went 3-9 from the field, but you have to put that aside. Sandy Brondello spoke on her star and said:
“I think for the first game in two months, and really hasn’t played a lot of games the whole year, I think she tried hard to be quite honest. I think she competed. She didn’t know all the plays. She got lost in a some situations. We put her at the four to try and spark something. She missed some layups, but I think any minutes we can give her is beneficial going forward.”
In post, Laney mentioned she’s working to find her rhythm, play hard, and get her legs back under her. Going into the game, she wasn’t expected to play heavy minutes, but with Howard’s injury, more was placed on Laney’s shoulders and she played close to 21 minutes. Like Brondello and Ionescu, Laney was very clear that the team needs to be better from jump and execute if they want to win. Anything less and they’ll be sitting at home after next weekend.
The Liberty stay on the road as they’re heading south to face the Dallas Wings on Monday night. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.