Just the Facts, Ma'am: Cappie Pondexter's 28 points led five Liberty players in double figures as New York trounced Phoenix 107-69. New York set team records for scoring in a game and longest winning streak as they picked up their eighth straight victory. The Mercury were led by DeWanna Bonner's 20 points.
For cognitive dissonance, leis, appreciative rookies, cherry-colored rotini, and conflicted Knicks, join your intrepid and euphoric blogger after the jump.
It's funny how events shake out. Bad things always seemed to happen against Cleveland or Detroit- Rebecca Lobo's ACL, Becky Hammon's ACL, the report of Kim Perrot's death, the 1998 collapse. It almost became part of the rivalry, the expectation that something was going to happen.
Good things, on the other hand, always seemed to happen against Phoenix. First ever home game and win? Phoenix. Breaking the franchise record for points in a game? Phoenix. Jessica Davenport's dramatic finish? Phoenix. Breaking the franchise records for points in a half, points in a game, and longest winning streak? Phoenix.
Wait a minute. Didn't I already mention breaking the franchise record for points? Well, yes... and then we did it again, because we are just that awesome when it comes to Phoenix.
The day boded unusually badly for us. There was chaos, disorganization, and confusion. There were paranoid Staples employees with bad senses of humor. There were vigilant security and ushers at MSG who were obnoxiously diligent about their duties. There were far too many people who decided to come to their seats early and be resentful of the autograph collectors. There was a twee seven-year-old doing horrible things to "God Bless America" for no good reason. There was a disappointing, albeit discounted, dinner at Seven (give it a pass on weekends, they limit the menu).
But there was also Tangela Smith being thorough and making sure she signed autographs for everyone, and Taylor Lilley being adorably relieved to be recognized (and not be confused for Penny Taylor), and Bridget Pettis boosting herself up on the railing to be better positioned for a fan's picture, and Brooke Smith being very concerned that an orange marker on the white part of the ticket wouldn't show up. "Do you want me to sign it in black?" she asked, after she had already signed it in the light orange.
Kara Braxton, we need to have a long talk about your, er, support system. I, um, don't think it's doing enough for you, and it's starting to show on the court. I think one particular fumble was caused by her, um, mistaking something else for the basketball and attempting to dribble it. I understand the league has official sports bras, but perhaps something can be worked out. I sympathize, trust me. She was more than willing to throw her weight around, but overall, this was Bad Kara. (And okay, maybe I did yell BOING! a couple of times while she was shooting free throws, but from where I am, I can't imagine it had any effect.) I have no idea how Sequoia Holmes smells, and honestly, I don't want to know how the Brigade knows, but she has incredible vertical and I like her hustle. Taylor Lilley was off her game tonight. Ketia Swanier, while more aggressive than Lilley, was about as effective. I really don't think that playing a lineup of completely small guards against New York is a good idea. Brooke Smith made a very brief appearance and got a rebound. She also looked exceptionally lost out there. On one hand, that's understandable, given how little she plays, but on the other hand, I presume she has some experience with playing basketball. She shouldn't look that confused by the whole thing.
This might have been the single worst game I've ever seen from Diana Taurasi, and that says more than you think; for whatever reason, she never seems to play well at the Garden. Maybe it's a California thing or something. But she was really out of the flow of the offense. Maybe she couldn't adjust to not having Taylor (though you'd think she'd be used to it by now), and maybe she just had other things on her mind. I don't know, not being Diana Taurasi. Temeka Johnson was hot early, but seemed to lose the ability to go right at Leilani Mitchell later in the game, an opportunity that neither Lilley nor Swanier seemed as eager to grasp. DeWanna Bonner picked up the slack for the injured Penny Taylor. She's so skinny! I mean, this is not a new observation and not rocket science, but it always throws me just how flexible and slick she is with that build. Candice Dupree is as smooth as silk. Beautiful to watch. She seemed to be leaning more on her jumper than on her inside moves, which surprised me a little. She put in work on the boards, though; her ability to judge the trajectory of a missed shot was phenomenal. Tangela Smith is showing her age, and it's very surreal typing that sentence. She's a step slow and her shot has disappeared.
Penny Taylor didn't dress for the game, which was very confusing. Well, she dressed, and she carries off blue jeans better than most women in this league.
Nikki Blue, unless Anne Donovan has explicitly said that you're not allowed to shoot, call your own number once or twice. It's okay. We'd approve. She's got good court vision, but she needs to be more aggressive. Sidney Spencer wasn't completely awful, and her jump ball with/full nelson on Candice Dupree was one of the more hilarious moments of the night. (Not hilarious in the "physical harm is fun!" sense, but hilarious in the "did Sidney bleeping Spencer just DO that?" sense.) Kia Vaughn did a lot of good things- the problem was that she followed up half of them with boneheaded mistakes like fumbling the ball or passing to no one in particular. Essence Carson played like she wanted her minutes back- her athletic tip-in of Leilani Mitchell's missed fast break layup was the play of the game. I don't know what she's been doing lately, but she needs to do more of it. Kalana Greene didn't play all that well in her minutes- I think Essence is really pushing her, and she doesn't seem to have been ready for that kind of pushing. Plenette Pierson continues to please us at the defensive end, but her offense is, er, unpolished. I think she has three go-to moves: drive right and throw it up with one hand, drive left and throw it up with one hand, or drive down the middle and throw it up with one hand. Occasionally she'll do something more standard like take a lay-up or hit a jumper, but driving and praying seems to be her primary offensive plan. I'm not sure I'm thrilled with that being the MO of my team's sixth woman- it seems that I'd want her offense to be a little more efficient.
The real Nicole Powell has been returned to Earth, or MSG, or something like that. What a beautiful stroke she has when she's on. Her defense still leaves something to be desired, but when Nicole is hoisting and hitting threes at that efficient a clip, I can't really complain. Besides, defense against Phoenix is sort of pointless. Leilani Mitchell didn't get going until later in the game. Yes, I know it's hard to say a player got going if she didn't score, but that was when her usual fierceness was back on display, with her trademark dives after potential loose balls (and balls that weren't so loose). Tiny. But fierce! And I will continue saying it until she proves it untrue. Someone read Janel McCarville the riot act after that abysmal offensive rebounding performance against Atlanta, because she (and the other posts) were crashing the offensive boards like nobody's business. It was nice to see Janel actually play the post for a chance. She's become entirely too fond of her jump shot, and still retains that unnatural love for her twisting little lay-up thing that seems more designed to draw a foul than to draw iron. This is not 2007, we are not still playing Chicago, and there are more shots in the world. I'm just saying on general principles. I'm not sure I approve of Taj McWilliams-Franklin's look- I don't mind the rotini hair, but I think the red streaks are much of a muchness- but I'm not going to tell her that, because I'm not a complete idiot, just a partial one. There were shots she took that she should have hit, but there were shots she hit that she shouldn't have, so it all balanced out. The step slow on defense is starting to frighten me, and she's going to need to use those veteran wiles to get to the next right place if she's going to be our starting center (which she is, because, er, no, not Kia). Cappie Pondexter was unconscious tonight, and how much can you actually say about that? The MVP chants got started early in this one. Maybe not a good plan to do it during free throws, fellow fans? Just saying.
Sort of funny but at the same time sort of disturbing and probably not a good idea moment: Braxton and Taj got tangled up in the post, and after Braxton is duly called for the foul, she and Taj run around the court for about half a minute with Braxton having Taj in a headlock and both of them grinning brightly enough to light up the North Pole in winter. I understand them horsing around, and that Braxton was still in Tulsa the last time these two teams played, and that they have history in Detroit, but given what happened last time, probably not the world's greatest idea.
I have no idea what game Lamont Simpson was watching, but it wasn't this one. And then he decided to bring Gulbeyan and Brooks to the game he was watching instead of the one they were supposed to be working. Strange calls went both ways (see the "jump ball" by Sidney Spencer), but there were a lot of Phoenix plays that should have been fouls, and the foul differential was way off. I know we were shooting more jumpers and they were going into the post more, like this was Bizarro world or something, but contact wasn't called consistently. Neither were travels, though we were the beneficiaries of that more than Phoenix was. (Cappie Pondexter, I'm looking at you. No matter how D-Wade your game is, you're still not in the NBA, and that big shield on your arm should be a hint about that.)
Looking back, these notes seem a lot more negative than they should be for a 38-point victory, and believe me, I wasn't this nit-picky in the arena, not by a long shot. At most, I was sitting there going, "This is so surreal." The energy in the building was incredible. I could feel it bubbling and fizzing, and I think this is the first time that's happened without Kym, or Spoon, or Sue getting the fans in black riled up. This was all on this batch of Libkids (and their Mama Taj). This was about Nicole Powell getting her groove back, and Leilani Mitchell diving on the floor, and Essence Carson's incredible leaps, and a good balance of incandescent individual talent with gret team play.
You might have noticed I've been lukewarm on Pondexter all season, and I'll admit that that's my bias. But what she's done to enough of the fan base is energize them, and in turn, they get the fire stoked for the rest of us. So I thank her for that... as long as she can keep up being Superwoman. (And if Nicole Powell doesn't suddenly remember she's awful.)