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Lawson burns Liberty

Just the Facts, Ma'am: A strong third quarter and lights-out shooting from Kara Lawson propelled the Connecticut Sun to an 81-69 win in their season opener against the New York Liberty. Lawson had 23 points on 9-15 shooting, including five threes. Tina Charles notched a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. For the visiting Liberty, Cappie Pondexter had 23 points. For road trips, the falling rain, no-look passes, music theft, unconscious shooting, unconscionable defense, classy Bruins fans, and a slightly lost Katie Smith, join your intrepid and wearied blogger after the jump.

Bill Laimbeer's debut as coach of the New York Liberty was spoiled by hot shooting from Kara Lawson.
Bill Laimbeer's debut as coach of the New York Liberty was spoiled by hot shooting from Kara Lawson.
Photo by David Butler II | USA Today Sports.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome back to Connecticut Sun basketball at Mohegan Sun Arena! As always, we'll be coming to you on tape delay, thanks to the somewhat draconian security procedures of Mohegan Sun Arena, but your intrepid blogger puts her faith in the bag check by the box office to make sure that her precious things don't get lost, mostly because there will be bloody warfare if they are. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Traffic was a nightmare today, as no one seems to remember how to drive when it rains, and Norwalk is under construction. A ride that normally takes a bit over two hours was in the 3.5 range. We did play tag with the Liberty fan bus for a while. That was fun. Never did get around to an angle where we could wave at our fellow fans, but we knew they were there, and that felt good.

Sun fans seemed a bit more wary of us than usual. Maybe they thought we were biting the style of one of the UConn fans who's known for his Cat-in-the-Hat-style hat. We're working on getting the team to autograph it, which is part of why I'm still irked at the way the Liberty autograph session ended after the preseason game.

Is it a bad sign when the Sun security people start to recognize you when you're an opposing fan? Then again, this game marks 68, the equivalent of two full seasons of Sun basketball... not bad for a Liberty fan, not bad after all.

I want to know where Plenette Pierson gets her skirts, because when I'm not in jeans, a Liberty t-shirt, and a WNBA jersey, I like to wear long, flowing skirts, and she rocks some pretty awesome ones. I mean, okay, I'd rather see her in uniform than in street clothes, but if I have to see her in street clothes, at least she's well dressed in them. Cheryl Ford rocked her pink ensemble nicely, but again, we didn't sign her to wear pretty outfits, we signed her to beat the tar out of opponents on the boards.

Also, Mama Taj is better than you at everything.

Part of me likes the way the Sun have everyone come through the crowd for intros during the opener. Part of me is decidedly irked at them for having everyone on one side of the arena come through the tunnel on the Liberty side of the court, in one or two cases all but running through the huddle. Stay classy, Sun. Stay classy.

That being said, everyone should play the Imperial March when Bill Laimbeer comes onto the floor. Even the Liberty. Especially the Liberty. Look, we know he's evil, that's part of why we love him.

I'm genuinely not sure what Katie Smith was supposed to contribute in this game, but she had a +10 in the box score, so she must have done something right. I don't think having her at the four/five and guarding Tina Charles for stretches was a really good thing, though. Alex Montgomery couldn't get her shot to fall, but she was forcing jump balls every chance she got and playing tight defense; I think she was the only player who believed in the wild concept of not letting Kara Lawson have an open jumper. Hurrah for a fine Georgia Tech education! Kamiko Williams was not quite so clever- she kept leaving Lawson to help, and Lawson accepted the open shots she was so generously given. Tan White worked her over a couple of times too. But when she was on defensively, she was on, and she was crashing the boards. Kelsey Bone showed flashes of the player we drafted her to be- tenacious, tough, powerful- but she showed a distressing tendency not to follow her shot, and I have absolutely no idea why she went for a reverse late in the game, when time and points were both of the essence. That was time wasted, especially because she couldn't hit the reverse. I hate players who can't or won't go to their weak side. It speaks to a lack of effort in drills and practice. She roofed Tan White, though. That was pretty.

Toni Young is going to make me go gray by the end of the season. I know it. She can casually dunk during warm-ups in a way that makes you go "huh, did she just dunk?" and then look terrified of the ball in an actual game. She's incredibly athletic, but in game action, she has all the coordination of a puppy that has been repeatedly dropped on its head and then spun around in circles. (Do not drop puppies on their heads to test this out. That is animal cruelty. The Game Notes of Doom do not support animal cruelty.) She had one rebound that made me sit up and take notice- and then she threw it right to Allison Hightower, and I think that's the point where I was reduced to "ack-gah-bkw-aaaaaaargh!"

Cappie Pondexter was hot in the first half, then was held scoreless in the third quarter before coming back in the fourth with a bad case of wanting to be on SportsCenter. The first time she hit the basket on that wild spinning drive down the lane, we were all cheering. The second time she tried to spin around three defenders and throw up a Hail Mary... did not go as well. She was getting torched on defense, too. She allowed two corner threes and kept losing her assignment. I know she's a superbly talented offensive player, but didn't she come out of Rutgers? Shouldn't she be at least somewhat familiar with the rudiments of a man-to-man defense?

Leilani Mitchell was the first of the many players that Kara Lawson left in her dust. Leilani is a solid point guard, and she'll work very well for some other coach and some other team some day- but she's a defensive liability, and she can't execute Bill's constant attacking mentality without getting stuffed repeatedly. Essence Carson was great on both ends of the floor, snagging plenty of defensive rebounds and locking down defensively. Kara Braxton played decently in stretches and played so very stupidly in stretches that had I been part of the fan bus, I would probably have gotten thrown out of the arena for going down to the bench and hitting her upside the head with my fully loaded clipboard. Follow your shot, Kara! Hold on to the ball! Try not to hit Tina Charles in the back with your... er... sports bra!

I don't know why Bill had both Katie and Leilani on the bench in the last two minutes when we needed a three like water in the desert. I would also have played Alex more; if you're going to go with ridiculous post match-ups because of foul trouble and injuries, I think Alex is more capable of defending fours and mixing it up on the boards than Essence or Katie.

Ashley Walker played briefly; the one shot she took was not well considered. Kelly Faris got an absolutely ridiculous amount of applause and hit the floor a lot. (And I'm probably going to spend a lot of time this season reminding my fingers that she's not related to Barb Farris.) Mistie Bass fought for every ball on the boards, and should probably have been credited with even more than she was. There was a sequence where she and Tina Charles were all but playing volleyball over the basket before she finally scored. I have a lot of respect for her toughness. Tan White couldn't hit water falling out of a boat, but heaven knows we gave her enough chances. She made a couple of those herself with a quick first step, though. Renee Montgomery played much less than I'm used to seeing from her, and spent most of her time hoisting threes. (Which may be why Donovan didn't feel the crushing urge to play her.)

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Kalana Greene has the soul of an old-school Liberty player. She would have fit in on the Finals teams (would we really have noticed if she was on the bench not playing instead of Desiree Francis, for example?) and she's still a favorite among Liberty fans. She was on point today on defense and in the lane. (And from the corner. Cappie left her wiiiiiide open for that one.) Allison Hightower started off slow, and had one absolutely brutal airball, but she redeemed herself later, and she had a couple of pretty steals- her hands were always right at the ball. I seriously love her as a player and would kill to have her on my team. Kelsey Griffin took full advantage of being left open on the perimeter for jumpers, and crashed the glass decently enough. She looks a lot better than she did in the preseason games. I wouldn't cut this version of her the way I would have the preseason version. Kara Lawson was unstoppable from deep. She did all the things. I think she did try to rush a couple of her shots in heat-check mode, but you can't give her space and time. She was just brilliant all over the place, the more I think about it. She did ALL the things. Tina Charles had three shots go in and out, just to put her shooting into perspective. She was beasting on the boards.

This seems to be a theme, now that I look back on my notes. Connecticut had a lot of possessions where they had two or three cracks at the basket, while New York was mostly one and done. Everyone on the Sun seemed to be eyeing the basket and getting ready to go for the board. Always something I like to see out of a team, just not when they're playing us, because it's so inconvenient.

The officiating was pretty awful, and sort of lazy- there seemed to be a lot of potentially reviewable situations that they chose not to review, and no defensive three-seconds called. Lots of travels, though- not that they weren't earned, simply that it seemed to be an odd choice of point of emphasis.

The anthem singer had decent ideas, but she didn't have the voice yet to pull them off. She's a kid. She'll probably have the voice. I was less enthused about the cheerleading troupes before the game, but I usually am not enthused about little tiny cheerleaders. They tend to set off my squick meter.

We were not sitting with the Liberty fan bus contingent, but we could hear them, and we endeavored to make them hear us. We ended up moving over a section because we were stuck next to a guy in a UConn cap with two sons in NBA gear, and in the next section over there was a whole row of Liberty fans. What made the most sense? Staying near people we would probably fight with? Or joining people who were rooting for our team? That's what I thought.

We missed the halftime show to chat with fellow Liberty fans, but it was worth it.

To the young lady two rows in front of us: happy birthday! Sorry for yelling behind you the entire game, but at least the Sun won for you and your dad was really cool to talk to!

I now love the concept behind the Sun's slogan this year: "Together We Will"- because the shirts come with a blank line to write on, and you fill in what "together we will" do. Unfinished sentences like that usually irk me ("Expect Great WHAT?!") but in this case, they're taking advantage of the indefinite nature of the phrase and letting people build on it.

Love to see the place bustling. ALL the fans!

For the most part, other than the obvious, I'm not disappointed in the Liberty. I'd like to see more effort on the glass, and I'm concerned about our long-term prospects for the season if Plenette and Cheryl are both injured for any serious length of time, especially if Bill persists in putting Katie at the four. But for the most part, the effort was there, and that can't be taught. Execution can be worked on in practice. Will can't.