Just The Facts, Ma'am: A balanced scoring effort spearheaded by the 25 points and seven assists of Cappie Pondexter gave the New York Liberty a 91-79 win over the visiting Atlanta Dream. New York overcame double-doubles from Sancho Lyttle and Érika de Souza, and Atlanta's 41-32 rebounding edge, to claim the victory.
For Iziane Castro Marques's popcorn, the Liberty's buzzer-beaters, and some turns of phrase that come from an exhausted mind, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.
The New York Liberty are becoming a fascinating team to watch once much of my emotional detachment has been dispersed. There's the potential for something good to happen- if all the pieces fall into place. There's the potential for something disastrous to happen- if all the pieces fall out of place. And there are nights like tonight, when some of the pieces fall into place, and some hover like the last flakes before an avalanche, and you know they could fall but haven't yet.
Maybe the team rules have changed, or maybe they're just lax in enforcement these days, but I remember the days when players had to be inside two hours before the scheduled start of the game, and that time seems to have changed. Taj McWilliams-Franklin was running through the gates (in heels and a calf-length dress, to boot; it was less of a run and more of a very fast skip) at six o'clock (for a seven-thirty tip), and Essence Carson didn't make an appearance until six-twenty or so. I don't know if that says more about the team's priorities or the professionalism of their approach or what.
As an autograph collector, Atlanta is quickly becoming one of my favorite teams to deal with. They seem to actually like people. Again, everyone on the team was willing to stop and sign, which means that we are now the proud owners of a t-shirt signed by, among many other people, the entire roster of the Dream. That kind of behavior is good for the league. Plus, you get the added hilarity of Iziane Castro Marques noshing on popcorn and hurriedly wiping her fingers off on her shooting shirt between signatures and apologies.
Anthem singer wasn't half bad for being eleven. She needs a little more vocal training, and for her voice to settle into its adult range, but she'll be all right.
I don't know where Coco Miller got this burst of energy from, but for the Dream's sake, I hope she manages to keep it up. She was bound and determined to break the Liberty's back in the second half. Kelly Miller was working hard on the boards, but wherever she got this notion that she's a three-point shooter from, she should probably put it back. That's really not the strength of her game. Likewise, Alison Bales. Yes, I know statistically she's been shooting the three well, but I suspected that that was a statistical anomaly, and she's regressing to the mean. Her biggest problem is that she plays like she doesn't realize she's 6'7"- she doesn't look like she knows how long her arms are sometimes. Yelena Leuchanka was a non-factor, and has less of an excuse for being one this time than she did three weeks ago. Armintie Price's lack of discipline didn't help Atlanta in this game, but her somewhat unorthodox style was a help to them on defense. Brittainey Raven played very little and did even less. I will say that I like the group dynamic among the subs for Atlanta. They play well together.
Sancho Lyttle is remarkably stealthy. She put up the quietest 15 and 14 I've seen in my life. I wonder sometimes what her numbers would be like if they ran some of the plays inside for her that currently go to de Souza. It seems like offensively, they're trying to use her more in the midrange, and I'm not sure that that's her strength. Of course, I'm not sure that I'd want Érika de Souza trying to make it work in the high post either, and you can't have both players in the low post at the same time, that just clogs things up. Also, de Souza needs to work on her free throw shooting. 3-8 is egregiously bad, especially for a post who has the potential to be the centerpiece of her team's offense- assuming, of course, that her wings ever give it up. For whatever reason (maybe it was the buttered popcorn), the shots that Iziane Castro Marques usually hits weren't going down. It seemed like hers were coming in the flow of the offense more than a lot of the others'. Her defensive speed was also crucial on a couple of abortive Liberty fast breaks- she was able to slide in front of the offensive player and force a stop. Angel McCoughtry's offense, on the other hand, seemed a lot more forced. Once the ball went to her, it rarely left her hand unless it was being shot. Sometimes I think she thinks she's still the star back at Louisville and she's going to get an automatic call on those drives to the hoop, and it hasn't sunk in for her that the WNBA doesn't work that way (or if it does, she has yet to reach that rarified area). Shalee Lehning was... she was there. She made a couple of mistakes, and she missed a couple of shots that I can recall, and she was pretty sneaky on the boards in a Debbie Black sort of way, but I wasn't impressed with her as a point guard.
All right, let's clear the air on one thing. I can't believe I'm typing these words. They don't seem real. But Sidney Spencer actually had a pretty good game. Defensively she was no great shakes, although she had a nice little deflection on a defensive rebound to get it over to Kia Vaughn. On the offensive side of the ball, she seemed more comfortable in her role as a spot-up dead-eye shooter. If Donovan's finally figured out how to use her, more power to them both. I'd still rather have had the first-round pick, but at least we're making use of her now.
Tiffany Jackson's inability to hit a shot is starting to annoy me, but at least she's hitting her free throws. At 6'3", though, she really needs to start rebounding more effectively than our backcourt players. Essence Carson made a small cameo, and wasn't too bad in it, but I'm thinking she's not 100%, or else she wouldn't have fallen quite as far down in the rotation as she has. Kia Vaughn needs to stop bringing the ball back down. Kia, you are 6'4", or at least that's what the media guide says you are. If you bring the ball down, the short people can grab it from you. If you keep it in the air, the short people can't reach it and the tall people don't have a good chance of getting a solid grip on it to take it from you. Just food for thought. Kalana Greene continues to play far wiser than her rookie age. Her play to end the first half was so perfectly choreographed I would have thought that she was writing a Hollywood movie. She timed her sprint and her shot so well- maybe she could have played around with tenths and hundredths of seconds before releasing that little jumper, but I don't think that's likely.
(First impressions =/= boxscores. Tiffany seemed to have many fewer rebounds than she was credited with.)
Nicole Powell has a reputation for being inconsistent, right? This game wasn't an aberration? Because she looked fairly lost on both ends of the floor after she got a few points early in the game. You should not have an All-Star appearance on your resume and get outplayed by Sidney Spencer. Unacceptable. Taj McWilliams-Franklin looked distressingly old tonight. She got beaten down the court a couple of times on a couple of breaks/potential fast breaks that she wouldn't have lapsed on not so many years ago. (As an aside, one of the Usual Suspects who lurks before games had a suggestion for what might be the best giveaway in Liberty history: Taj wigs. You could do a whole series of them, even.) Janel McCarville gets a pass thanks to the collision that left her on the floor for a worrisome amount of time and had her taken to the locker room for the remainder of the first half. Please don't hurt yourself worse by cramming yourself onto a train and then getting smacked around by the Washington posts. She was efficient in her time on the floor, but it was clear in the third quarter that she wasn't completely herself. Leilani Mitchell was quietly minding her business with a couple of points and a bunch of assists into the fourth quarter, at which point she whipped out back-to-back threes deep in the shot clock. Those shots got the crowd going, but more on that later. And then there was Cappie Pondexter, who filled the boxscore as she is so adept at doing. Is it weird of me to be confused when her hair is in a simple ponytail? I keep expecting strange dramatic things from her.
I don't know if a detailed analysis of the play-by-play would bear this out, but from where I was sitting, the ebb and flow of the Liberty offense was interesting. It was very balanced at the outset- all five starters scored two points in the first three minutes. Then there was Cappie Pondexter, putting the team on her shoulders and getting just enough help to extend the lead, but for a very long time being the only player in double figures. Then it was back to balance, and the game ended with four players in double figures and three with nine points each. I like balance. Balance is good.
So are buzzer-beaters. If Erin Thorn weren't alive and well in Chicago, I'd say her ghost was haunting the Garden. Kalana's shot to end the first half? Pretty awesome. Sidney Spencer ending the third with a buzzer-beating three? Way awesome. Leilani beating the shot clock with threes in the fourth quarter twice? Now we're getting into Twilight Zone territory, but in a good way. That may have been a hint that no matter how hard Atlanta tried, they weren't coming back. The clock was totally our friend.
I'm relieved the game didn't get as chippy as it could have. After Sancho Lyttle got clocked in the head with an errant elbow from Janel (I'm pretty sure it was from Janel, given that Janel sort of paused in the run back down the court to say something to her while she lay sprawled out), I thought de Souza or someone might take matters into their own hands, but that didn't happen. About the only thing that made me raise an eyebrow and be unamused was a random forearm by Cappie Pondexter to Coco Miller's throat, because, seriously, other than cry and be an easy target for mocking, what has Coco Miller ever done to deserve being the target of violence? I can't imagine a Miller twin talking, much less trash-talking.
The refereeing was as inconsistent as this WNBA fan has come to expect. Travels went uncalled, pushes under the basket were ignored, and either Twadorski or Tiven came within a hair's-breadth of blowing a fairly obvious over-and-back. At least the inconsistency and incompetence were even-handed.
Don't believe the boxscore. I think they overestimated attendance by a good 25%.
I'm less sure what to think of this team than usual, but that's because by the time I finished writing these notes, it was two-thirty in the morning.