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Nine Is Fine As Mitchell, Liberty Break Fever

Just the Facts, Ma'am: 19 points from Leilani Mitchell and a double-double from Taj McWilliams-Franklin spearheaded the Liberty's attack as New York won its ninth straight game, beating the Indiana Fever 78-57. Tamika Catchings led all scorers with 25 points, but she was the only Indiana player to break double figures

For a boxscore, an AP recap, and numbers to pore over, join For beautiful violins, anthem etiquette, clown noses, and secret referee love, join your intrepid and giggly blogger after the jump.

If I'm dreaming, please don't wake me up. (If I'm Dreaming, please give me a plane ticket back to JFK.) This team is doing things I thought there was no way they could do, and they're just exploding. The defensive pressure is great, and tonight we got nice solid contributions from all over the team.

Excellent crowd tonight. I think just about everyone in the arena knew how important this game was, and if they didn't, they figured it out. I love spontaneous noise, and there were a couple of fan-generated chants.

Trying to get Leilani Mitchell's autograph from six rows above the tunnel is not the most brilliant idea in the world. Tiny bunny is tiny, kids. Good thing she has vertical.

Beautiful, beautiful anthem rendition by a violin group. It almost brought me to tears. But, um, people? YOU SHUT UP FOR THE ANTHEM. You get up, you take your hat off, and you shut up. If you don't think the anthem is worth standing for, or you don't appreciate what it symbolizes, at least show the performers a little respect. I don't think that's a lot to ask.

Joy Cheek seemed very determined to get a basket in this game. She was definitely looking for her shot more than even the next to last player in a game does. The hook shot isn't her strong point, though. All I can remember about Jené Morris is that I have no idea what she was thinking with her hair. Shavonte Zellous looked like she wanted to be the Fever's version of the Sun's Tan White. (Yes, I know exactly what I'm saying here, and I know what I mean.) She was very aggressive with and without the ball. Maybe she was a little too aggressive. Jessica Moore was clearly in the game for defensive purposes, which was all right, because she was usually matched up with the worst offensive player on the floor for either team. So her defense pretty much went to waste for Indiana. Jessica Davenport, frighteningly, was the best post for the Fever tonight, mask and all. (And that is a really badly fitting mask. It looks like it was designed for people who customarily wear clown noses and cheek inserts.) I wonder if she was thinking Well, I went out on the perimeter to play defense, and I got my face smashed in, so I might as well be physical in the post. What's the worst that could happen? I'll get my nose broken? She was a lot more aggressive than I remembered her being in New York. Of course, on the one night in the last two years that I wasn't rooting for her to show Blaze how badly the Liberty messed up by cutting her, she shows out. Go figure. Briann January got extended minutes for the Fever, but she didn't show me that she could be a point guard in this league. Her shot selection was questionable, and given the options she has to work with, I thought she called her own number more than necessary. She wasn't great on the other side of the ball, either.

If I were a Fever fan, I'd be paging Ebony Hoffman right about now, wondering where in the world her game disappeared to. She doesn't even look like she wants to be playing right now. Is she just bummed that her high school teammates are out of the league? Has her conditioning suffered? Indiana fans, I appeal to you, because I thought she was an underrated player, and now she makes Tammy Sutton-Brown look like a model of consistency. Speaking of TSB (and you can imagine my voice dripping with the same apparent disdain as the Garden announcer's), it was nice to see her back to her Rutgers form. You know, missing chippies and not being as strong on the boards as she could be. She wasn't completely awful, but she needed to be more of a factor, and she didn't step her game up. When Katie Douglas got open, she sunk her shots, but someone must have clued the Liberty in that she likes to go to her left, because she didn't slip free too often. Tully Bevilaqua... I love Tully. I think she's one of the most fantastic people in the league. And she's been the best point guard for the Fever all season. But tonight, she looked like she was in over her head, and was outplayed at her own game. If the Fever had an off-guard who could handle, I might be inclined not to use a point at all with that roster. I mean, do you really need to set up a complicated offense when you have Tamika Catchings to play with? Early on, her shooting was nothing short of phenomenal, and I thought for sure that she was going to win the game for Indiana single-handedly, the way Cappie Pondexter has done for the Liberty too many times this season. (Not too many wins, too many games where she's needed to haul the rest of the team along for the ride.) Then Dunn put her on the bench, and between the mistakes made by other Fever players and the natural cooling of a hot hand on the bench, she lost it. She started to show her Tamikaze colors, and for a change she was getting called for some of the moves she usually gets away with. No, Tamika, you can't push off. Sorry.

It was nice to see Nikki Blue get time in consecutive games, and she's got nice court vision. I don't think I object to her as a backup point guard in case of emergency. Kalana Greene didn't do anything that stuck out in my mind. More and more, it's looking like Essence Carson is after that slot in the rotation, and she's worked her tail off to earn it. Essence looked like the only Liberty player who could make Catchings even think twice before hitting a shot. I don't know if she's been doing exercises or something, or if it's even possible to do exercises for this, but I think her vertical has improved. She's making a lot more incredibly athletic plays than she was earlier in the season. Kia Vaughn is a nice kid, and I wish her all the best, but unless she can figure out how to stop telegraphing her moves so obviously that Samuel Morse could come back from the dead and block her into the third row, her ceiling is Jessica Moore, and that's not a great maximum potential to have. She has good enough hands and feet, enough size, and the RU experience to be a better-than-average defender off the bench, but she'll never get an offensive move off until and unless she stops making them so patently obvious. Time and time again, she would start something and by the time she got to the end of it, there were three people standing around and practically tapping their imaginary watches. "What took you so long? Now I have to smack your shot into the backcourt instead of just out of your hands." Plenette Pierson brings defensive pressure, but it bothered me tonight that she was repeatedly out of position on both ends of the floor. Leilani should not be guarding Davenport, okay? Leilani is 100% Awesome Concentrate, but she still gives up, like, another her to Jessica Davenport. But Plenette just wasn't with the program. I think she's thinking ahead to how she's going to whoop on Tulsa.

I rode Nicole Powell pretty hard in the beginning of the game, because she was the one that Catch was burning, but she was efficient in the time that she needed to play, and I like her attempts to be aggressive on defense. We need her to be as well-rounded as possible, and I also liked that she was changing up her offensive game a little bit, going to the basket instead of settling for threes (though she did too much of that as well- Nicole, you don't have to shoot from the NBA line). This was a relatively quiet game from Cappie Pondexter, other than the moment where she was tagged with what she thought was a questionable foul and got mad enough that I thought she was going to get tech'ed. It must have been nice for her to watch her teammates go to work for a change. Janel McCarville looked more interested in her outside shot than her inside game, which is all right as long as she doesn't neglect basic post moves. (It keeps her from trying to reenact the twisting lay-up from the 2007 game that got us into the playoffs.) Taj McWilliams-Franklin used her veteran guile masterfully, making sure that Indiana couldn't get a post move going to save their collective lives. She was always in the right place at the right time. And Leilani Mitchell! Leilani started the game where she left off against Phoenix- contributing tiny things, but not making any big splashes. Then, suddenly, she beats Tully at her own game, ripping away two offensive rebounds, and it was like a light switch had gone off in her head. She started taking and making unbelievable shots. It was awesome.

I don't know what game one of the refs was watching, but I don't think it was this one. To be fair, the Liberty were walking all over the court, but the Fever were being more physical on the boards. I like Williams as a ref, but I'm a sucker for crisp signals.

Cute moment before the game: Kym Hampton chatting with Jessica Davenport. It's nice to see the Liberty's past and what could have been its future intersecting.

It was very cool to see Val Ackerman at the game, though I have no idea why she was there. Val Ackerman and Renee Brown- there's a pair that stirs memories.

These kids, man. These kids, and their Cool Big Sister Plenette, and of course their Mama Taj, might have something here. They've breathed life back into the Garden for the first time in a long time. Then again, I thought that in 2007, too, and then it all fell apart. I don't dare believe. But I can hope.