NEWARK, NJ - This is getting to be a habit.
New York Liberty coach John Whisenant greets the media post game shaking his head while perusing the stats before saying, "it wasn't pretty but it's a win."
In the case of the Liberty's 69-66 too close for comfort victory over the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, that was a perfect description. But this was also a game New York needed and almost handed to the Mystics after blowing a 16 point lead. The possession and efficiency after the jump.
Possessions Offensive Efficiency
Wash. 77 86
NY Liberty 77 90
Whisenant spoke about the defense stepping up to save the game. Overall the efficiency metric of an 86 surrendered is indicative of solid D. A closer look of efficiency by quarters shows how it almost came apart in the final quarter.
Efficiency by quarter:
1 2 3 4
Wash. 55 89 79 120
NY Liberty 120 67 68 100
The Liberty had a sterling first quarter on the defensive end. The next two quarters were above average but the final ten minutes saw Washington score 24 points on 20 possessions and nearly exit the Rock with a W.
Whisenant praised his team's offensive showing in the early going. As the game progressed he called several time outs to remind his club about execution and keeping the offense going. For their sake, the Liberty got their attack back in gear the final quarter.
Offensively the Liberty scored 14 points in the paint the first quarter. They finished with 28 to Washington's 24. In those initial 10 minutes, the Liberty got out in transition and enjoyed some inside looks down low. As the game progressed, Washington got back to stop transition and basically transformed the Liberty into a jump shooting team, resulting in an offense that stagnated in the middle of the contest. New York, in fact, did not get a bucket in the paint in the second half until Plenette Pierson converted inside with 5:39 to go in the third quarter.
Washington's offense featured Matee Ajavon on the perimeter, though 3 of 13 did not cut it. Inside they ran a lot of nice sets for Crystal Langhorne. Rather than just post her up, they would get the ball to the 6-2 Langhorne just off the blocks and let her drive baseline, pull up for a short jumper or spin off the baseline into the paint for a post move. A very intense, hard worker inside Langhorne, scored 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting and grabbed a team high 6 rebounds.
"She was superb," said Mystics coach Trudi Lacey of Lanhorne. "We kept going to her as she is our most consistent player. I am glad we and she realized she had the hot hand out there and got the ball."
The Four Factors:
eFG FT Rate OREB PCT TO RATE
Wash. 48 33 14 21
NY Liberty 47 22 22 20
The FT rate differential is proof of the Liberty's perimeter obsession following the first quarter. Actually Washington attempted 18 three pointers to NY's 11. But with three field goals in the paint the final half the home team was settling for a number of mid range to deeper looks. Crystal Langhorne's work inside was significant in getting Washington to the charity stripe.
Alleluia! The Liberty won the offensive battle of the boards. One of the locker room whiteboard keys was 'REBOUND, REBOUND, REBOUND'. They did just that limiting the Mystics to four offensive rebounds.
I have always admired Matee Ajavon's game - from high school, through Rutgers, and now. One criticism is the flopping when closely guarded on jump shots, especially beyond the arc. Makes you wonder if Matee took a drama elective during her RU days.
In a related item...Memo to WNBA officials, if you are reading this I am indeed flattered. Also, feel free to use a line employed in my games when a player flops looking for a call: "There were bail outs on Wall Street but there are none in my game."
With just 13.5 seconds to go Cappie Pondexter finished a penetration move which amounted to the winning basket and gave the Liberty a lead they would not relinquish.
"Coach set up a play where we would attack and be aggressive," Pondexter said. "I missed a late game shot in a loss at Washington so I wanted to get the shot and win. Plenette (Pierson) faked a high post screen, they didn't go for the fake so I got a step and took it to the basket."
Leading Scorers :
Cappie Pndexter, NY 26
Crystal Langhorne, Wash. 25
Plenette Pierson, NY 16
Matee Ajavon 12
Kia Vaughn had an eight point game leading seven rebound effort. Vaughn was unavailable in the stretch, fouling out with just under eight minutes left , and her substitute at the table waiting to replace her.
Those first four: Coaches emphasize how the first four minutes of each half are vital. For Washington, the 'first four' after intermission were important as the visitors sent a message they would be around for the duration. At the half New York led 36-27. The first four minutes of the second half :
Possessions Points Offensive Efficiency
Wash. 8 4 50
NY 7 0 0
Now it's 36-31, a two possession game and the Mystics with the momentum.
Records: Liberty are 14-11 while Washington, who defeated New York two straight times at home (Washington) fell to 5-17.