NEW YORK CITY — Despite 20 points from Tina Charles, the New York Liberty lost their second straight contest, 68-54, against the Los Angeles Sparks at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
The game represented the Liberty’s second consecutive loss, and head coach Bill Laimbeer was candid during his post-game press conference.
“We’re a very fragile team – personnel-wise, but also mentally,” Laimbeer said. “Until we overcome that, we’re going to have games like this. … We have moments where we do it, but we [also] have moments like tonight where we lose our brains.
“We put our heads down,” Laimbeer continued. “One bad thing goes wrong and a couple of players can’t get out the funk. We are not a very strong basketball team across the board. We can’t handle adversity well at all.”
The game began innocently enough. Charles has been the most consistent player this season for the Liberty (she was rewarded as Eastern Conference Player of the Week), and she continued her dominance against Los Angeles early by shooting 10-17 from the field, using her array of post moves. Charles got into the paint often, backing down Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike in a physical back-and-forth between the two centers.
“I think we came out better versus L.A. than versus San Antonio. I think the effort was there [vs. L.A.].” Charles said about the Liberty’s start of the game. In their performance against San Antonio on July 9 (an 80-66 loss), the Liberty trailed by 10 after the first quarter.
After a tight first quarter that produced a 3-point lead for the Liberty, the Sparks began to pull away in the second. Candace Parker, the two-time WNBA MVP, burst open for 6 points and 4 rebounds to lead the Sparks to a collective 57.9% shooting in the second quarter. The Liberty mustered just 13 points with 6 turnovers in the quarter, and they trailed 42-33 entering halftime.
“We didn’t have enough firepower offensive-wise to get it done,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said after the loss. “Our offensive execution was poor.”
The contest had the feeling of a rout, but the Liberty managed to battle back in the third quarter. New York trimmed their deficit to 52-50 behind 8 points in the quarter from Charles. Even though the Liberty outscored the Sparks by 3 in the third, Los Angeles took a 56-50 lead into the decisive fourth quarter.
The Liberty could not extend their momentum into the fourth quarter; the team scored just 4 points and turned the ball over 6 times. The period finalized a disappointing game for the Liberty, one that was clearly within their grasp.
“You’re not going to beat any team in the league scoring 54 points,” Charles stated.
Despite the struggles, Laimbeer admitted that the team’s emotions were still in check, saying, “It’s not frustration yet.”
The game also featured the debut of newly-acquired forward Swin Cash. Cash, a three-time WNBA champion, last played for the Atlanta Dream, and was acquired on a trade on July 9 that exchanged DeLisha Milton-Jones. Cash was entered into the game with 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter, and finished with 4 points in 13 minutes.
“They had size all over the place,” Laimbeer said, explaining his reasoning for inserting Cash early into the game, “and we needed someone to match up their size. Also, I needed some energy. She will provide that.”
Another storyline in the game was New York’s second leading point-getter on the season; guard Cappie Pondexter. Pondexter was held scoreless against L.A. while playing just 18 minutes – both statistics well below her season average. Pondexter did contribute 4 assists, but Laimbeer said afterwards that she was struggling with a few injuries, which began after the team’s loss in San Antonio.
“I’d like to say she’s day-to-day,” Laimbeer said. “She gave it a good effort today. It was not her Achilles; it was something else. But she gave it a good shot.”
“I just didn’t have it tonight,” Pondexter began. “I’m not gonna talk about injuries. That’s not who I am. I’m never using that as an excuse. I just didn’t have it tonight. … If you want to talk about me scoring 0 points, I’ll do that. Or us not winning, I’ll talk about that. But I’m not gonna talk about injuries.”
Pondexter did talk about her team, though.
“We can beat any team,” she said. “I can say, on my hand, probably one team that actually beat us this year, and that was San Antonio. Other than that, I think we beat ourselves. … In every game, we’re either up two or [the opponent is] up two, and then we just put our heads down and we don’t fight back.”
Laimbeer echoed Pondexter’s thoughts.
“I told them on the bench,” Laimbeer continued, “that ‘you have to stand up and take responsibility for your mistakes.’”
The team, however, still remains optimistic. “I think we’re going to be O.K,” said Liberty guard Chucky Jeffery. “We just need to get back to the basics and the little things like we did when we went on that win streak [earlier in the season]. I think we’re in good shape, but we’ve got to get back to doing what we do best.”
The Liberty has four days to regroup before they return home against the Atlanta Dream (13-5, first in the Eastern Conference) on Wednesday. The Liberty’s 21st game of the season will take place at 11:00 am.