NEWARK, NJ – Cappie Pondexter was exhausted. And it showed.
Post game in the locker room, the New York Liberty star leaned back on the seat in front of her locker.
"Whew," she said. "Is it Sunday? I will tell you I am going to sleep well tonight."
The rest should be one of peaceful relaxation and satisfaction as the Liberty posted a 73-71 come from behind victory over the LA Sparks at the Prudential Center.
The win came largely on the defensive end those last twenty minutes. At the half New York had been too generous allowing 48 points. The entire second half the Sparks put up only 23. The key was the third quarter where LA scored just seven allowing the Liberty to enter the fourth with a 59-55 lead.
"I thought our effort was there even in the first half," Liberty coach John Whisenant remarked. "We were just making a few defensive mistakes that we talked about correcting during halftime."
Those errors included poor close outs on outside shooters, a lot like Friday against Chicago, and allowing the LA bigs to get out and do damage in transition. The third quarter saw a different look. LA’s size was not affecting the Liberty as much and uncontested shots for the Sparks were at a minimum. Any looks the Sparks got were defended and closely contested.
"At halftime coach (Whisenant) just emphasized about playing better defense." Liberty guard Essence Carson said. "We were getting looks on offense but even if your offense is not going well, defense will keep you right there."
In Whisenant’s estimation the keys to the Liberty win were:
- The defense.
- The third quarter that turned a 48-36 deficit at halftime into a four point lead.
- The play of Pondexter.
"She is our captain," Whisenant said of his outstanding guard. "She scored (a game high) 21 points, had eight assists and 12 rebounds."
On the afternoon, Pondexter logged almost 38 of the game’s 40 minutes. She also hit three clutch free throws in the games last half minute to preserve the victory.
A complete and outstanding performance by one of the WNBA’s marquee players. Pondexter virtually willed the Liberty to the win column. Regardless, she was all enthusiastic in crediting her teammates’ defense for being a difference.
"We had a good effort on defense the second half," she said. "But Essence (Carson), Alex Montgomery and Plenette Pierson really stepped up defensively especially in that seven point third quarter."
Pondexter also used some of that halftime respite to encourage her teammates.
"I told them we can get back in this," she said. "It wasn’t going to be easy but as hard as it is, getting back and pulling this game out would be special and make the effort worth it."
The Liberty are now 12-17. Los Angeles, paced by Kristi Toliver’s 17 points, fell to 20-10. Once again playoff talk is prevalent at the Rock. Off Friday’s debacle and the lackluster first half today, post season seemed to be fading fast. Suddenly, following a resounding half and victory over what Whisenant calls "a gifted team", there is resurgent optimism.
For their part, the Liberty will not ‘scoreboard watch’ and eye what the competition does. They will take each game as it comes. Winning will take care of the situation and ultimately decide who is playoff bound.
Said Pondexter, "We definitely have to win our next few games."