NEW YORK -- Ideally, August is the time of the WNBA season where you want to be at your best.
The New York Liberty, winners of four straight; including Friday’s victory at Connecticut, hosted the Minnesota Lynx. Cheryl Reeve’s group entered Madison Square Garden having won two of their last three. There were few who would doubt Minnesota’s credentials as an elite club, sporting a 22-5 overall record.
In this Sunday matinee, the Liberty were far from their best in the first half. The final half, however, was one they may want to bottle, as they defeated the Lynx by the final of 70-61.
Pregame numbers of note: Minnesota entered with a league-leading 106 offensive efficiency against a defensive metric of 92, another pace-setting figure. The Liberty showed a 99 on offense while having the league’s third-best mark on defense at 98.
The Liberty showed the ability early on to share the ball. Unfortunately, they were not sharing it with Tina Charles. The former UConn standout was fronted down low with very active post defense. New York managed five first quarter field goals with Charles only accounting for one, a 13-footer. Minnesota looked to run, and if available, take the three-pointer. The Lynx hit two of their eight field goals from beyond the arc. In fact, another three field goals were just inside three-point range. Getting out in transition was the key to the Lynx taking the offensive initiative in a 19-11 lead at the end of the opening stanza.
The Liberty still trailed 33-28 at halftime. They did trim the deficit to one possession on several occasions in that second quarter, a good sign for Bill Laimbeer’s group as shots were starting to fall, as they shot 7-of-14 in the second quarter.
With six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lynx still had a 38-34 lead. The Liberty missed a few opportunities in the initial two minutes of the half. A bright spot was two of the three New York field goals were made by Charles. Given a rough start, the Liberty standout showed her veteran poise by staying in the flow of the offense and letting the game come to her.
The Liberty closed out the last two minutes of the third quarter on a 6-0 run, giving them a three-point lead entering the final ten minutes. As an added significance, it gave the home five some much-needed momentum. Epiphanny Prince’s offense (15 points) opened things up for penetration and post play. Almost overlooked was the defense on Sylvia Fowles. The Lynx’s leading scorer (20.4 PPG) was hounded defensively all afternoon. She ended the contest with just seven points on 3-o- 4 shooting, but did lead all rebounders with 15 boards.
Trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter, the ball was put in the capable hands of Maya Moore. The Lynx star canned three field goals from long distance in the last five minutes, but it was not enough as the Liberty sealed it from the charity stripe.
Possessions: Minnesota 72, New York 70
Offensive efficiency: Minnesota 85, New York 100
Effective field goal percentage: Minnesota 39, New York 51
Free throw rate: Minnesota 7, New York 24
Offensive rebound rate: Minnesota 33, New York 24
Turnover rate: Minnesota 13, New York 17
Leading Scorers/Player Efficiency
Minnesota: Maya Moore, 22 points/17
New York: Tina Charles, 19 points/20
NOTES: The free throw rate of Minnesota can attest on how they were largely a perimeter team for the afternoon. Outside of Moore’s late charge, the perimeter was not kind to Minnesota, as they shot 7-of-27 from beyond the arc. Offensive rebounding percentage was deceptive. Minnesota fared better while the Liberty came up with a number of possession-extending boards at key junctures. Minnesota is now 22-6. The Liberty improved to 17.12.
“We won. Got on them a little at the half. The first half was not who we are. We came to play, not win. No energy or sense of purpose made us fortunate to only be down four. We challenged them to show who we are in the second half. Don’t know if we contained Maya Moore, you are not going to stop her, she is a tremendous player. You want to limit touches and make her work for everything. The biggest difference was defending Sylvia Fowles. We kept them on the perimeter. The free throws showed that. Sylvia is very physical. If you let her dictate, she will score. We beat her to spots, made them swing the ball more, and forced them to be more perimeter overall.” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer