NEWARK, NJ - The respective teams had unblemished records on one side of the ledger.
The visitors, on the positive side while the hosts had the ubiquitous zero in the win column. The winless New York Liberty (0-5) hosted the Indiana Fever (4-0) at the Prudential Center.
The first four minutes can get the tone established but owning them does not guarantee victory. Regardless, a team searching for that first win has to get off to that good start. Immediately. The Liberty did it, taking an 11-7 lead after four minutes of play. That start propelled the Liberty to a first half double digit lead.
Indiana used screens on the offensive end to free shooters. Often the guard using the screen would not look to the screener rolling but instead, reverse the ball on the perimeter. Part of the reason the Fever were perimeter oriented, was the Liberty's work in defending the post. Getting the ball on the blocks was very difficult.
Offensively, the Liberty ran a high - low post set with shooters in the corners and single guard front. Granted they committed turnovers but did show more fluidity on the offensive end. Knocking down shots, especially on the perimeter makes the offense run better and opens up opportunities for the post players. Not a post player, 5-5 guard Mitchell was afforded several looks, scoring ten first half points which included two three pointers.
At the half, New York owned a 53-42 lead. Sustaining the energy and lead was the main job for the Liberty over the final twenty minutes. The first four minutes of the half saw New York ‘hold serve' with a 6-5 advantage. Indiana's opportunity to set the tone for a comeback was denied by the Liberty. Hustle plays as saving balls headed out of bounds, beating opponents to loose balls, even sprinting out of a time out were indications the Liberty found a ‘spring in their step'.
Entering the fourth quarter the Liberty enjoyed a 15 point lead. Indiana made a run and cut the deficit to seven with just over three minutes left. At that point Mitchell buried a crucial three to reestablish the momentum and basically put the home team in great position to earn their first win of the season, 87-72.
In the end, given a more efficient offense (an outstanding 106 offensive efficiency) the victory was made possible by a Liberty staple of last season: defense.
"I give New York all the credit in the world," said Fever coach Linn Dunn. "I think they responded to last night's game in Indiana. They came out very intense and aggressive. New York probably played the best defense I've seen all season. We didn't respond well to their defensive intensity and I thought that was the difference in the game."
The Liberty defense held Indiana to a 92 efficiency on their offensive end. The Fever shot just 40% from the floor and managed only 20 points in the paint. Impressive numbers and certainly what Liberty mentor John Whisenant is looking for on a consistent basis.
"We got back to basics. We did what we did last year when we were right there with the better teams in the league. We played good defense," Whisenant said.
Cappie Pondexter of the Liberty paced all scorers with 25 points. The most impressive numbers though, were the Liberty having five players in double digits while assisting on 20 of their 31 field goals.
"It was a good team win," said Pondexter. "Everybody stepped up and contributed. Our coaches said we had five players in double figures. That's a huge difference compared to two people consistently in double figures. If we play that way, we can beat anybody."
A good win, especially when it is your first of the season. Atlanta visits Tuesday and the Liberty have the opportunity to build on this victory and face the next challenge with an i mproved mindset.