We frequently discuss and refer to the ‘first four minutes' and their relative importance. Coaches stress how vital these moments are at the beginning of each half. ‘Winning' the first four does not guarantee a victory, nor does ‘losing' them automatically spell defeat. Still, coaches want their teams to seize these moments to establish their game plan and get off to a strong start on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. As a regular practice, I chart the possessions of the first four minutes at games covered and viewed on TV.
The final two New York Liberty games saw those first four prove to be crucial to the game's outcome. Against the Indiana Fever at the Prudential Center, the Liberty came out strong and used that momentum to their advantage. Less than 48 hours later facing the Connecticut Sun, the visiting Liberty had the chance to make a significant move following intermission.
They didn't. A closer look follows:
In New York's 83-75 victory over Indiana last Friday the breakdown looked like this.
Points Poss. Off. EFF.
Indiana 6 8 75
New York 11 8 138
On Sunday in Connecticut, the Liberty went into halftime with a seven point lead, thanks largely to Leilani Mitchell's buzzer beating acrobatic three dialed in from the next area code.
Starting the second half, New York had an opportunity to seize the momentum but was unable. With the score 33-26 in the Liberty's favor, the first four minutes of the final half played out in this manner.
Points Poss. OFF EFF.
New York 6 8 75
Connecticut 9 8 113
With six minutes to play in the third quarter there is ample time and possessions ahead. Now, though, the Sun have the deficit to 39-35, a two possession game. A strong first four minutes on the Liberty's part to open the half could have increased the lead to double digits and changed the complexion of the contest. The opportunity was there for the Liberty but to the Sun's credit, largely behind the presence of Tina Charles (a record setting 23rd double-double on the afternoon), they didn't allow it.
The Sun ultimately pulled it out 69-63 and will face Atlanta in the best of three in the first round.
The Liberty will matchup against top-seed Indiana, a club they split against (2-2) this season. Again, those first four will be very important and closely emphasized by both coaching staffs. For New York, it will be even more important and expected that the Liberty set a defensive tone. Coach John Whisenant said a good part of the season that his defensive scheme would take some getting used to and the players would take a while to get comfortable employing it.
In the academic calendar school is starting; in the WNBA, final exam time is upon us. At this juncture, the Liberty should be well versed in Whisenant's system and be ready to use it to put their mark on the game. Right from those first four minutes.
Keep it Simple Stupid....To echo the words of the late Al McGuire, one of my all time favorites, just a quick reminder as the best of three tips off.
The Liberty would be best suited for a quick start at the beginning of the game, not just after halftime. They did just that and defeated the Fever at the Rock as noted, less than a week ago.
Paramount to establishing their 'stamp' on the game, watch for defensive closeouts. In recent losses, the inability to quickly close out on perimeter shooters has been an Achillies heel for New York. They need to keep a lid on teams getting in the lane while not giving uncontested perimeter looks. They will be tested by the likes of Indiana's Katie Douglas. Should be interesting to see if Whisenant adjusted with some defensive 'tweaks', especially on the perimeter, as the 'second season' tips off.