NEW YORK CITY — In one of the more lethargic performances this WNBA season, the New York Liberty (21-9) fell to the Chicago Sky (19-12) by the final score of 82-60. It was a disappointing result for the 8,496 fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden (the Liberty’s home) on Thursday night.
New York, who guaranteed a postseason spot with their victory against the Minnesota Lynx on August 28, struggled for all four quarters on Thursday. Led by 21 points from Courtney Vandersloot and 19 points from both Elena Delle Donne and Allie Quigley, the Chicago Sky left the Liberty unorganized and without any valid response. The lack of resistance from New York was especially surprising considering that the Liberty boast one of the better defensive units in the league.
But defense was not the only struggling facet of the Liberty’s game. The team shot a dismal 35% from the field, while guard Epiphanny Prince was held to just 10 points and forward Tina Charles shot 8 for 24 from the field — both of whom are normally offensive leaders. Like the defense, New York’s absence of offense was unusual: the Liberty have scored at least 80 points in each of their previous four games. And overall this year, through thirty games, the Liberty have scored less than 65 points just six times.
“We got good looks,” said Prince, referring to the Liberty’s shot opportunities. “Chicago just wanted it more.”
Interestingly enough, not all was negative from the Liberty. The team managed to outscore the Sky 30 to 16 in the paint; one of New York’s more consistent avenues of success this season. Furthermore, center Carolyn Swords chipped in with three assists and two blocked shots, while energy off the bench from Sugar Rodgers (eight points in 14 minutes) and Brittany Boyd (two assists and six free throw attempts in 7 minutes) provided momentary glimpses of what might become Liberty runs. In the end, though, the Liberty did not do enough to prevail.
“The overall effort and energy [Chicago] put forth tonight was better than ours,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said after the game. Tina Charles agreed.
“They wanted it more,” she said. “They punched us in the face and we weren’t able to get back.”
Perhaps what added even more sting to the loss was that the Liberty never led by more than two points in the contest. Simply put, New York was never truly in the game, as they trailed by 19 at halftime and by 15 entering the 4th quarter.
To take a more optimistic look at the game, the blowout loss can serve as a learning opportunity for the Liberty moving forward. After all, with New York playoff-bound for the first time in three years, Chicago’s victory might turn out to be a vital wake-up call for the Liberty.
“It’s a great lesson for us,” Laimbeer said. “Tonight, [Chicago] showed us the atmosphere we’re going to face in the playoffs — which is good. It’s a great lesson to have now instead of day one [of the playoffs]. It’s a good experience for our young players and our collective team.”
Laimbeer’s sentiments were echoed in the locker room.
“These games happen every once in a while,” the Liberty’s Essence Carson said. “But I’d rather have them happen now than in the playoffs.”
New York now must bounce back from the blowout to be ready for the final stretch of their season. The Liberty still lead the Eastern Conference, but the second place Sky are now just 2.5 games behind after their win on Thursday.
On Sunday, the Liberty will be at Minnesota, the best team in the Western Conference. Then, to round out their home schedule, the Liberty play against the Connecticut Suns (13-18) and Washington Mystics (16-14) at MSG. New York’s last matchup of the year will be a road game against Indiana (18-12).