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Red Letter Day: Pondexter and Carson Lead the Liberty

Just the Facts, Ma'am: After a tight first quarter, the New York Liberty pulled out to a lead they would not relinquish, defeating the Seattle Storm 77-59. Essence Carson led all scorers with 22 points; Cappie Pondexter added 20 points and led New York with seven rebounds. Ann Wauters and Tina Thompson each had 10 points for the Storm, who committed 24 turnovers.

For blasphemy, cake, the removal of pants, traveling fans, non-traveling Katie Smith, dancing, and Kia Vaughn being adorable, join your intrepid and overheated blogger after the jump. (Though I am thankfully not as overheated as our friends in the DC area, it's taken an hour for the AC to knock the temperature down two degrees.)

Tell me why I'm still a Liberty fan. Tell me why I still live and die by this team. Tell me why I still care. Because I'm at that time in the year when I start to wonder why I care about this team when I don't like most of the players. It's not about the name on the back- I'm not a player fan. It's not about the name on the front- I'm not that big a gambler. So what's it all about?

The Seattle Storm remain one of the best teams in the league for autographs and player interactions. The Storm are the only team I've ever seen where players double-check to make sure everyone got their autographs. (Thanks for asking, Sue Bird, but we're good.) They're even patient with people who blow them off. I think that's the old-school influence of the coaching staff at work; you've got an ABL coach in Agler, an original WNBA player in Boucek, and an original WNBA coach in Darsch. It's a sharp contrast to the Liberty's approach, where you only see half the players on the court for warm-ups, and half of them run off so fast you can barely high-five them. Not the first time I've observed that about the Liberty, either. It says a lot that I get more respect in Lib gear from other teams as a fan than I do from my own.

Great anthem. She hasn't grown into her voice yet, but she's only fourteen. She'll be able to hit the notes she was looking for when she gets older.

31-23 Liberty at half. I'm favorably impressed by our ability to force turnovers, but I'm worried about our injuries. DeMya Walker didn't start, and went back with the trainer briefly in the first half, and Kia Vaughn left on a stretcher near the end of the second quarter. (We blinked, and suddenly she was bent over in Plenette's arms, and Plenette and Laura Ramus had to support her to the stretcher. There were a couple of moments where I wasn't sure she was conscious. Towel over her face makes me think hit to the head, but I didn't see what happened.) Sue Bird has not yet attempted to kill any hapless opponents.

The postgame concert is delayed by cake. This would normally be a good thing, but the staff doesn't seem quite certain how to divvy up Maddie's birthday cake. I'm working on the notes now, and then the conert will start, and I should be home before tomorrow. I hope. We gave up on the cake temporarily, until the initial rush ran out and things calmed down, thanks to Louie from the Timeless Torches.

The concert sounds very much like dance music. They really should have opened up the court and had him perform there so people could dance. The sound was better suited to a larger space. Still, if dance music is your kind of thing, Brian Kent isn't half bad.

Today was the celebration of Maddie's 16th birthday, which explains the cake. They brought in a few other mascots- the Scarlet Knight from Rutgers (which, no, Mr. MC guy, is not "the University of Rutgers", it's "Rutgers University" and "Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" if you're a New Jerseyan making a point), the Pirate from Seton Hall, Star from the Atlanta Dream, and Freddy Fever from Indiana. I had no idea the Atlanta-Indiana rivalry extended to the mascots- Freddy tripped Star in the game of musical chairs to make it to the final with Maddie. The Knight and the Pirate made like they were going to come to blows until Maddie separated them. The college mascots gave Maddie t-shirts, while the pro mascots brought other gifts. I'm sure the Cagers got all excited at the shot of Maddie holding up the Rutgers tee. Both RU and Seton Hall were selling season tickets. I am somewhat disappointed that Johnny Thunderbird and St. John's weren't represented, especially since there was a group from SJU there.

The season subscriber gift they talked about last year was finally delivered today- black throwback Pondexter jerseys. That, to me, is blasphemy beyond blasphemy, given that if I had had a choice in the matter, the black jersey I would be wearing right now would be a Sue Wicks jersey (but the Lobo was sort of natural, given my name, and by the time I was old enough to consider such things, I thought team gear was too overpriced to buy, yes, I am a cheapskate, yes, I've gotten a little better about it). Sue Wicks is the reason Cappie Pondexter couldn't wear #23 in college. It bothers me a little that the Liberty seem to be engaging in revisionist history. Fortunately, the throwbacks are sufficiently bootleg that it's easy to tell they didn't care. The number and name font is all wrong, and the attempt at the backplate is a bit of a disaster. Still, we did warn Chris, and we did warn Melissa, so if you see anything on YouTube about a pair of Liberty fans burning a Pondexter jersey, I'm not saying it's going to be us, but I'm not saying it's not going to be us, either.

Ewelina Kobryn hit her first shot and made us all think that she was going to make Whiz look stupid, but then she looked a step slow and a bit soft- more of a traditional Euro post than she had seemed in previous games I saw on TV. I suspect the physicality from Kara Braxton might have thrown her off her game. She took a bad spill in the fourth quarter and came up hobbling, though I don't know if it was her knee or her back, and didn't return. Svetlana Abrosimova looked like she was in her first game with the Storm, and I don't know if Agler should have used her yet, although I guess in a back-to -back situation this close to the break, he can use those games to get the rust off her and get her used to the plays for the second half of the season. Alysha Clark got some time near the end of the fourth quarter, and I think the best description of her would be "deer in the headlights". She looked very hesitant, and then she threw an interception. (Yes, I know, wrong sport, but the Liberty made a lot of really nice defensive plays that looked like interceptions. Work with me on this.) Shekinna Stricklen looked like a rookie out there- her shot was badly off and she seemed out of position a few times. Impressive range on her heave to try and beat the clock, though- has she ever thrown shotput or javelin? That's a lot of arm strength there. Tina Thompson played more inside than I've gotten used to, and was more successful offensively than defensively. She looked to be going towards the basket instead of just spotting up for threes. Is this a new-old thing, Storm fans?

The play in the post seemed to distress Ann Wauters a bit. She wasn't looking for her shot as much, and if I recall correctly, a lot of her turnovers came under pressure- either throwing the ball out of the double-team to no one in particular or having it stripped by the defense. Camille Little was everywhere on the boards, using that... solid lower body... of hers to great advantage. She was really the only Seattle player who stood out for me in a good way. Tanisha Wright seemed to be trying too hard to be a point guard, which is an odd thing for one to do if one has Sue Bird in one's backcourt. She was pesky on defense, though. Sue Bird seemed satisfied chucking threes, and of course the one at the end of the quarter went down, but she was not the merciless, stone cold killer she's been in the past. I'm not sure how much of it was Liberty defense and how much of it was questionable Seattle game plan, but it was fortunate for us. Katie Smith doesn't stop talking. I was amazed she didn't get a technical during the reversed traveling call. (Which I thought was a travel- I thought she slid while falling, but I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong.) She got hot later in the game, which I thought meant we were done, but it didn't!

Nicole Powell is many things, some of which are unprintable. She is not, however, a power forward in the WNBA. This is a bad plan, Whiz, and you should feel bad for employing it. Her defense was better than it's been, and her work on the boards and the baseline sealed the game in the final minutes for the Liberty, but she's got to find her shot again. She's going to get rebounds if she's the four in the lineup, but she's going to get beat down by actual posts. We don't need that. Kelly Miller played briefly and that was the last anyone saw of her. Alex Montgomery actually saw extended run and didn't look too bad in it. She had a great steal off a Storm inbounds that got the crowd- especially her cheering section across the way from us- going. Her defense was exactly what you would expect from a Georgia Tech alumna, and she seemed to fit well in the flow of the game. If she can be that backup three, then Essence can slide to the two- her natural position in the WNBA- and Cappie can actually get a break. What a novel concept. DeMya Walker was called upon for a lot of extra minutes today, despite not starting, and she answered the bell on the glass and in the paint. The fumbling was not as welcome, though. Kelley Cain needed a very energetic pep talk from Plenette before she got out on the floor. It didn't seem to work, as she was painfully out of position a lot of the time, but there's always hope. She's going to need to step it up if Kia's out for any extended period of time.

Poor Kia. Feel better! She was all right in the first half, when she was on the floor, though I would have liked for her to be a little more assertive in the paint. Kara Braxton put her stamp on the game with bodying up on defense and work on the glass. She needed to hit more of those chippies, though, and she's going to need to get used to more minutes- she was panting and begging to come out in the second half. Leilani Mitchell kept committing stupid fouls on defense, and some of those shots should have gone down, but she ran a decent offense. Granted, in that regard, it was mostly getting out of the way and letting the Rutgers girls have at it, but sometimes the smartest part of being a point guard is recognizing who the hot hands are. Cappie Pondexter, except for a couple of decisions that made us remember her academic struggles at Rutgers, played like a superstar today. She ran the break well, she hit her shots (though that off-balance fading shot needs to go away), and she found her teammates when she needed to. And Essence Carson stepped it up in the second half, finding her way to the basket through the lane, then stepping out for midrange jumpers, then getting it inside again. Offense, from Scarlet Knights. No, something isn't right here. :)

DeMya Walker, how on earth does someone who went to the University of Virginia manage to commit two inbounds violations in two games? You're supposed to be smarter than that. Officiating was mostly all right, though I never realized a tree could use her feet as effectively as Powell does. For the most part, they did a good job spotting the small things. About the only blatant miss I can think of was a couple of holds by Ann Wauters on Kara Braxton. (For shame, Ann! You're a married woman! I don't care how distracting Kara can be!)

It was not a pretty game. There was a lot of sloppy passing, mostly by the Storm. I'm glad the Liberty came out with the win, and feeling much less melodramatic than I did at the beginning of this set of game notes. I'm still not thrilled with the team, but they're still my team.

A lot of Seattle fans were in the house. Whoever thought it was a good idea to seat two separate people in Storm gear behind the Liberty bench should be taken out back and smacked repeatedly with thundersticks. The family a few rows in front of us was also cheering for the Storm. They were scattered all through the arena. And shame of shames on the Liberty fans and this Newark debacle, you could actually hear a Stormfan shout "BRICK!" on the Liberty's first free throw. You could hear someone in the next section comment on the Cain sighting. It's embarrassing when you know where this franchise has been.

Signs that you know you're not playing/that you know the play: during one timeout, the Lil Torches were doing a routine to "Call Me Maybe". A few games back, the Liberty also did a routine to that song. During the timeout, Plenette, Alex, and DeMya all started dancing. (For the record, also, Plenette should have gotten the Klondike bar. The two dancers out there were lousy.)

Priceless moment of adorability: Kia Vaughn's face when the PA announcer thanked Kia-the-car-company for sponsoring the Maddie key chains. I've never seen anyone come that close to an ^_^ in real life before. She just beamed.

Next stop: Mohegan Sun! I expect to see a lot of familiar faces, and not just the Seattle Storm.