NEWARK, NJ - Survive and advance? There seems to be a copyright on that term virtually synonymous with March Madness. But excuse us because that is just what the New York Liberty did in Friday's 78-76 overtime win over Tulsa at the Prudential Center.
Survive? Yes, as a potential game tying basket in over time by the visiting Shock was not released in time per the officiating crew.
Advance ? Well, in the strictest sense it was a moving on of some sort. The first win of the young season and the first for coach Bill Laimbeer on the Liberty bench.
'I have a few more grey hairs," was Laimbeer's reaction, in a mood mixed with light-headedness and sheer relief. 'Overall we did not execute on offense but down the stretch we made some big defensive plays."
The Liberty enjoyed a 15 point first half lead. The Shock got back into it on a mix of 3-point shooting and the post game of Liz Cambage. In the waning moments Cambage, a game high scorer (22), left the game with a severe ankle sprain. After the game, she said
On a night that saw a visit by highly regarded Skylar Diggins (a very quiet 7 points on 2 of 11 shooting) of the shock and an attendance which included Jay Z, Allan Houston, Rasheed Wallace and Iman Shumpert, it was an old (not in age) reliable in Cappie Pondexter that settled the issue. Her baseline jumper with .5 seconds to play in overtime rimmed, then fell to provide the Liberty with the game winning difference.
"For a last second shot, I'll go into battle with Cappie (Pondexter) any day," Laimbeer praised.
Among the feel good attitude of getting that opening night victory. There was a stark reality. The turnovers again, showed up and nearly spoiled the Liberty's night - a total of 24 in raw numbers. In the 87 Liberty possessions, for the game, that yielded a 28% turnover rate (turnovers divided by possessions). That equates to almost one of every three possessions wasted with a miscue.
That was not lost on Laimbeer.
"A lot of our turnovers were due to going too fast," he said. "The first half we got off to a good start, got the break going then made mistakes by continuing to play too fast. We will look at tape, figure out how to correct that (turnovers) but I promise you it is something that will be addressed."
In the Liberty locker room Pondexter discussed the turnover situation also pointing out, as her coach did, how they rushed things. She assumed some guilt with a team high six turnovers but did add that Tulsa's pressure also was bothersome.
"They (Tulsa) started to pick us up full court," Pondexter said." That pressure got to us a bit. It is something we will work on because other teams are certain to do the same thing."
Game one at home in the books. The record is even at 1-1. The season is young but a proven winner in a big way, Laimbeer thinks in terms of the big picture.
"When Cappie hit that shot to put us up at the end of overtime we had players celebrating during time out," he said. "You can't have that. You need to think immediately in terms of what adjustments you might need and what the opposition might do. That is what you do at a championship level. This is what we are trying to instill."
As it turned out, the Shock inbounded from half court and Glory Johnson was found alone underneath. She converted the layup, but not in time.
Already you can sense the Liberty is starting to get the message.
"He (Laimbeer) is a perfectionist," Pondexter said. "He wants perfection. That is tough to get but he really knows the game and everyone respects that."