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Transitional Phase: Can the NY Liberty refine their offense into one that runs instead of jumps?

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The New York Liberty played one quarter of excellent basketball last night. Unfortunately, one great quarter out of three is not going to win many games. The visiting Seattle Storm, fresh off of a loss the night before to the Indiana Fever, came in and played a sloppy game, but still managed a 92-84 win against the well-rested Liberty. To be fair, it was a close game throughout, and the 4-6 Liberty held their own against the top team in the WNBA. After examining the play-by-plays after the game, and doing some very complicated math, I determined that a lot of what made the third quarter so productive in comparison to the others was the speed at which the Liberty ran their offense.

When New York runs the transition game, they look at once more aggressive and more organized. I spent much of my last article begging for the ladies to get in the paint, and I will spend much of this one pleading for transition offense. My request for a post presence still stands, however. Even coach Donovan lamented that the team, "settled for jump shots instead of getting into the paint." For there are few things more frustrating than watching a team launch shot after long shot while their opponent continues to find themselves getting easy points at the free throw line as a result of driving to the basket.

There were two statistics that jumped out of the final box score that tell the tale of the Liberty’s loss: free throws and rebounds. For the most part, the teams played relatively even to one another. In fact, despite my griping, they both scored 24 points in the paint. However, the Storm went to the line 27 times (and unlike the Dream, they hit 96% of them), whereas the Liberty only took 18 foul shots. Interestingly enough, none of those free throws came during the third quarter, which is something for which I have no definite explanation, but more on that later.

In terms of rebounding, it was somewhat surprising to see the Liberty with only 21 rebounds to the Storm’s 33, especially since they just brought in Plenette Pierson from the Tulsa Shock to help fortify the paint. Granted, she had a decent night, especially for having practiced with the team just twice prior to the game. Anne Donovan sang her praises; "She did amazing. She’s the post presence that we need…our points in the paint went up because of Plenette tonight. She did a great job." There is no question that Pierson’s scoring in the paint is a welcome addition, but it would be nice if they could access her rebounding skills as well.

And now, to that mysterious third quarter, in which the Liberty scored 30 points while only committing 2 turnovers. The fancy math I mentioned before merely consisted of me counting the number of times the Liberty took the ball to the basket, how many steals they got, and what resulted from those steals. The way I see it, lay-ups mean penetration, and penetration means not settling for outside shots (New York’s kryptonite). In this quarter, the Liberty made 5 driving lay-ups. That’s almost as many as they made in the other three quarters combined (11 total). In addition, they had 4 steals, all of which resulted in quick scores on the other end. When New York runs their transition game, they are incredibly efficient. As I mentioned, they shot no free throws in this quarter, but some of that could have to do with the quick scoring-- perhaps Seattle simply didn’t have time to get back and defend.

Defensively, New York looked stronger during the third quarter as well. While they tallied 12 points in the paint, they only allowed Seattle to score 4 points. Yet, for reasons unbeknownst to me, they were unable to keep this aggression into the fourth quarter, and allowed the Storm to settle back into a rhythm. There was, for me, one shining moment for the Liberty near the end. Just three minutes into the final quarter, 5’5" guard Leilani Mitchell blocked a lay-up attempt from 6’1" Swin Cash, rebounded the loose ball and ran it the length of the floor for a score. Needless to say, Madison Square Garden erupted. In the last minutes of the game, however, the Liberty were forced to foul, and the win slipped out of their reach.

It isn’t as if the players aren’t aware of what’s going on. Mitchell, when I asked if the team felt more comfortable in a transition offense, responded, "That’s kind of what Anne (Donovan) wants from us, is to really push the ball. That’s kind of our focus this year, so we just need to make sure we do that all the time." Forward Janel McCarville also told me, "We try to make it a point to get into the paint as much as possible, obviously high efficiency when you get in the paint. We made it a point the last couple of games but we’ve gotten away from it." So this means they’re talking about it (it being transition/post play), and they’re aware of how well they play when they drive hard and fast to the basket. The task then becomes executing said offense, and maintaining it for more than one quarter of the game.

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Storm at Liberty: Game Thread