NEWARK, NJ - You could talk all you want about how good the Indiana Fever were on Thursday evening.
Tamika Catchings was a game high 22 point scorer, inside and out. Katie Douglas, 15 points including three trifectas, dropping shots from the perimeter. And the care of the ball exemplified by just eight turnovers.
Yet in the end, what really stood out was the number 21. Almost as prominent, and a reason behind Indiana's 76-63 conquest of the Liberty at the Prudential Center on Thursday was that 21. That was the number of turnovers committed by the Liberty and the count of free throws taken by Indiana as contrasted to just three from the charity stripe for New York.
"That's amazing," exclaimed Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter when informed her club took only three free throws. "Obviously that shows a lack of aggressiveness on our part."
Pondexter's remarks pierced what was a extremely silent Liberty post game locker room. The points of emphasis were still on the board punctuated by a message in big letters, ‘Defend our House'. Obviously the Liberty did not and that hurt as much as the realization of a now 9-16 record is turning the playoffs into a long shot.
"We are not throwing in the towel yet," promised Liberty coach John Whisenant.
His mantra has been constant but with September upon us, the clock is ticking. Whisenant points out a tough early season schedule is done and the remainder of the slate is more favorable to his club down the stretch. The coach is realistic though, admitting, "you have to be ready for every opponent because every game is hard to win in this league."
Whisenant got a team-high 18 points out of both Pondexter and Essence Carson. But it was Pondexter's dribble penetration that was necessary especially in the second half of a night the Liberty could not ignite a consistent offense. Leilani Mitchell scored only four points and was not the regular perimeter threat she is counted on to be. Plenette Pierson shot 1-for-8 with two points on a seven turnover night to forget. Whisenant pointed out that Pierson and Kia Vaughn rejoined the club following the Olympics and are still working their way back to full strength.
"Outsiders do not realize when you get players back in the lineup there is an adjustment period,' Whisenant said. "Plenette is still getting comfortable and Kia (Vaughn) is coming off a concussion and really trying to get back in it. Once your players return you need to build that cohesiveness. They have to find that rhythm within the rotation."
The Liberty need it fast. A home date with Washington is next on tap (4 pm EDT on NBA TV). The margin of error is slim.
A positive against a now 16-8 Fever, was out shooting Indiana 47-44% from the floor. Also winning the battle of the boards 35-25 against a physical frontcourt was another plus for the home team. All this shows how a turnover virtually every third possession completely damages your offensive effort and chances of winning. One thing is certain, a 21 turnover performance is not acceptable.
"Their (Indiana) man to man and switching soft zone kept us out of our rhythm," Whisenant said. "They actually forced us into turnovers."
Pondexter credits Indiana for imposing their will and forcing her club into such a subpar performance but quickly adds, "We were a step slow on both ends of the court. Now," she emphasized, "we just have to move on."
And somehow find that consistency that has eluded the Liberty all season.