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Liberty Turn Back Sky on Opening Day

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Just the Facts Ma'am: The New York Liberty surged out to a sixteen-point lead, and held off a strong second half run by Chicago to defeat the Sky 85-82. Sylvia Fowles led all scorers in a losing cause with 23 points. For New York, Cappie Pondexter had 22 points, while Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 20.

For harrowing tales of autograph collection, commentary of questionable value, and a subjective view of the game, follow your intrepid blogger after the jump.

official boxscore and AP recap

I'm worried about myself as a fan. I should be more exhilarated about an exciting Opening Day win than this, right? I should feel a sort of melty joy in my heart that they showed Spoon's Shot and acknowledged her and Sue Wicks. I should be thrilled that Taj showed out and Kalana is ready for the big time. But there's a seething, boiling frustration where the happiness should be.

Wow, there's a heavy start for you. Let's get on with the show before I freak you all out.

The Liberty promoted a "Fan Fest" before the game, so we came earlier than our wont to check it out. Unless we missed a large chunk of it hidden behind another building or wall, the "Fan Fest" consisted of a pavilion and a basketball hoop tucked away in a corner. I understand that they couldn't do anything sprawling with Iona's graduation going on the same day, but in that case, don't promote it as something bigger than it is.

It did not help our mood that there were some delays in getting the gates open, either. Rule of thumb: it is probably a bad sign when your crowd starts chanting "ATTICA! ATTICA!" as three o'clock rolls around. I will say that the hats are very nice. Simple, but simple is often best. I'm debating whether I should use it as the continuation of the big cap project I started in 2000, but white caps are the devil's own mischief to wash, and they end up beige when you carry them around that much.

Shameka Christon knows how to work a room. Of course, it helped that most of the people lining the tunnel were Liberty fans who gave her, Cathrine Kraayeveld, and even Erin Thorn a hearty round of applause when they came out. (Which led to a sort of hilarious moment in which Sidney Spencer thought the applause was for her, as she came out right behind Cathrine. Diplomatically, I'll just say that that's not likely.) While some of her teammates (and some of her opponents- I am glaring holes through you, Nicole Powell) ran through the tunnel and didn't stop, even after she said she had to run, Shameka was still giving out autographs- even to people who hadn't asked for them.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin also knows how to work a room. I love her charisma. The three big acquisitions each took the mic and gave a little "hi, you're awesome, wish us luck" speech. Cappie Pondexter was a little nervous about hers, I think- the phrase "you opened us with welcome arms" was uttered. This probably should have come after the tiny tribute video to Shameka and Cathrine, not before- this came right before intros and tip-off, while the tribute video came at the first timeout. It came off as very self-serving, 'let's see if we can get the fans to forget the old players' sort of thing.

Whoever cut the tribute video did something very brilliant either by accident or on purpose. Most of the clips showed them in action against Sacramento, or Houston, or Detroit. Whether that was sheer dumb luck or a subtle swipe at the league, we may never know, but the shot of Taj wrestling Cat to the ground was... amusing.

Anthem was not to my taste, but it was acceptable.

Oh, hey, game notes! I do wonder when people are going to realize that Erin Thorn hits almost all of her shots from the right side, and only when the clock is running out. She's no threat with 22 on the clock, but when it's down to two seconds, she's nothing but net. She's also polished her defensive game. I guess that happens when you transition to savvy vet. One play, she let Kalana Greene body her around until, oops, three-second violation. Epiphanny Prince did not impress me. She did not look like a player who played a European professional season instead of a collegiate season. She had a nice block on Cappie Pondexter, but her moves on offense weren't really working. Abi Olajuwon looked comfortable on the court, but didn't see much time, but that would probably have to do with being a straight switch for Sylvia Fowles, who really didn't need to sit much. Sandora Irvin was sort of thrown into the game when the Sky were down big, almost as a desperation move, and she hit a jumper but otherwise didn't seem to be involved in things. Mistie Bass saw even less time. I think she had one shift in the first half, and that was the end of it.

Shameka Christon started off slow, but kicked it into gear in the second and third quarters, then sort of disappeared again. She hit the floor a lot more than I expected. (So did Erin.) Dominique Canty attempted to party like it was 1999. No, seriously, Dominique, I ask this as a fan of the game, not of an Eastern Conference foe, and with respect for a true '99 rookie who has built a long career: stop shooting the ball. Distribute and rebound- you are an excellent rebounder for a guard. Jia Perkins's shot was really off today, and only a few of those misses were because of defense. I love how she plays the passing lane, and her nose for the ball. She might be one of the canniest players on this team, and one of the three who comes off as smarter than the coach. Cathrine Kraayeveld crashed the boards a bit more than I remembered from her last couple of seasons in New York, and had an efficient game, but wasn't a factor inside, unless you count as the first line of defense against Janel McCarville. The second line of defense, and Chicago's player of the game, was Sylvia Fowles. She overwhelmed the Liberty in the post on lay-ups and putbacks. It wasn't a perfect game for her, not by a long shot, not when she still isn't a great pass-catcher, isn't getting as strong a grip on her rebounds as she could, and occasionally passes to imaginary teammates.

The Sky honestly looked on several occasions like they didn't know each other. There were more than a few really blatant missed passes, cuts that didn't cut, zigs that went zag, defensive assignments that were not done, and other breakdowns of communication. They were also not great at keeping the ball inbounds- to out-of-bounds fumbles on the far sideline come to mind immediately, and I'm sure there were others as well. And I don't know what was up with the clock management on their next-to-last possession; if you're four points down with nineteen seconds left, you can't afford to spend fifteen seconds looking for a shot. Key's personnel management and time management left me scratching my head. Again, when an external observer thinks there are at least three players who could be better coaches for this team right this second, you might have a bum coach.

Essence Carson to the bench is an interesting and necessary move. I don't know if it can work for the whole season, and if she keeps going to the rack this way, it might not have to- if she can keep bringing offense, then that allows the Liberty to sacrifice some of Cappie Pondexter's offense and move her to the point, switching Leilani Mitchell to the bench. Kalana Greene continues to look mature beyond her years on the floor. She gets her offense in the flow of the game (which is more than I can say for Ashley Battle, as much as I loved her as a player) and she'll learn the small defensive tricks. Kia Vaughn had a really good run in the first half where she looked like the player the Liberty drafted in the first round. Then she reverted to the Kia Vaughn the Liberty had for most of last season. As aggressive as she was in the first half, she was equally tentative in the second. I wish we could get her to be more consistent, because we need her. Tiffany Jackson didn't get it done as much as I would have liked, though I appreciated her hustle on the boards. She didn't pull a lot down, but she kept a lot of possessions in play. And for the record, I'm a fan of her 'do.

The same cannot be said of Taj McWilliams-Franklin's hair. Our theory is that a tribble landed on her head. Please don't let her kill me. Other than the hair, she was a joy to watch on the floor. It's nice to see her stroking the long ball again- that makes her a bigger threat- and she brought out all the tricks. Old age and treachery defeat youth and skill any day, even if youth and skill had a gaudier stat line. Janel McCarville really seems to have her offense stuck in the 2007 season. Bit of a problem when it's 2010. Go towards the hole, Janel! And do so with those broad shoulders instead of twisting and weaving like you're playing Twister and trying to show up a gymnast! I think having Cathrine on her defensively didn't help her, but I would have liked to see her be a little more assertive. Nicole Powell has a beautiful stroke, but that was all she showed. Asleep defensively (I have no idea how she got three blocks according to the boxscore) and not much of a contribution in any other part of the game. I'm worried that she needed a heating pad in the second half. That's not a good omen. Leilani Mitchell appears to have inherited Erin Thorn's affinity for the corner three along with her number. She's also gotten even more aggressive on the boards and coming after loose balls, and I will never argue with nine assists against a single turnover. I usually don't argue with eight assists, either, especially when they accompany as stuffed a stat line as Cappie Pondexter's. I'm not sure if I like her holding the ball for almost an entire possession late in the game when Chicago has learned to come with double-teams and pressure, though. That's one thing I worried about when we got her- that we would lean on her and rely on her too soon, and just let her take care of things instead of making a move to help. Hopefully, that's a kink that can be ironed out.

The passing game is really sharp. I like the ball movement. I'm worried about health issues, but who isn't in this league?

During the pregame and the first-to-second-quarter break, we saw a netball exhibition. With all due respect to the twenty million netball players out there, what in the world? It's like old-fashioned zone ball met field hockey and had a baby. I can see some of the appeal, but I think I would have to see it played at a higher level to see if the quickness and passing are sharp enough to make up for the arcane rule differences.

I thought for sure we were going to bury Chicago in the fourth quarter when they showed Spoon's Shot on Gardenvision, and handed her the mic, and she implored us to get up and make some noise for our team. I mean, she's Teresa Weatherspoon, the Energizer Bunny of basketball, one of the fiercest competitors this game's ever seen. She tells you to get up and get loud, you get out of your seat and scream or she will find you and not be amused. Instead, we let Chicago tie the game, putting up 28 in the quarter. It feels like a weird sort of betrayal.

It was good to see Suuuuuuuuuuue and Spoon at the game (though we almost died laughing when, while they were showing Sue on camera, she pulled Spoon into the frame, and we were all "Oh my God, is that Spoon? That has to be Spoon! Why aren't they acknowledging her?", which was relieved in the fourth). I like the rebuilding of bridges to our history. The Knicks do it, the Rangers do it, the Devils do it- why shouldn't we? We have a proud history to celebrate. (I may also have seen Ashley Battle, but I'm not sure- only got a brief glimpse.)

The officiating was decent, or at least logical, through the first five-eighths or so of the game. Then it went to pieces. I'm really skeptical about the flagrant foul that was assessed against Janel on Prince's shot- it looked like Janel was going for and got ball. Some of the later calls also seemed odd, but on both sides.

I should mention in passing that my stalwart companion and I are each engaged in an autograph quest this season. I have a mini-ball I'd like signed by all of this year's rookies; he's got a shirt he wants signed by as much of the league as possible. We therefore headed for the Chicago team bus, Sharpies and items in hand, or slung over my shoulder in the Bag of Holding. We were far from the only ones. Folks in "Team Meka" shirts, along with a whole obsession of Liberty fans, lined the barricade to greet the prodigal daughters. Not that we were going to skip the opportunity to get some Sky ink, either, but the only ones to come over were Perkins, Prince, and Fowles. Sylvia Fowles really knows how to work a room. I wonder if she was what Taj was like when she was young. She has very similar charisma- a huge smile that transforms her from fearsome to dazzling, a knack for eye contact, a willingness to acknowledge everyone. We tried to holler Cathrine over, but while she waved, she didn't come. As for Shameka, we didn't see her at all. The Team Meka people were a bit put out by that.

No matter how much I know it, I'm still amazed by how deeply personal the WNBA fandom is, and how much moreso it is than other leagues seem. There's such a level of emotional investment on a one-to-one basis, on an up close and personal basis.

So that was the game, and the trappings, and a few other extraneous details. I'd like to be more optimistic about Chicago, and once they've all been properly introduced, I think I will be. I'd like to be more optimistic about New York, but I don't know if I can; the manner in which Pondexter was traded and Powell's so-far mixed signals leave a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. But if Taj can keep this up, and if Kia can develop along this track instead of regressing, and if Powell can stay healthy, there might be something to this team.