NEW YORK CITY - Character. Resolve. Determination.
Those are the words that could aptly describe the New York Liberty on Tuesday evening.
The Liberty outlasted the Washington Mystics 80-76 in overtime at Madison square Garden. In the process they ended a four game win streak by their Eastern Conference rivals. Of greater significance was the manner in which it was accomplished.
Taking the oft-preached advice of coach Bill Laimbeer, the Liberty raced out to a fifteen point lead at intermission. The defense was doing its job. The offense running on all cylinders. Adhering to the inside-outside approach, the Liberty's Tina Charles was controlling the paint with nineteen points. Even a last second 48 foot heave by Alex Montgomery found nothing but net.
But the third quarter saw Washington regroup and show why they entered the Garden on a hot streak.
Emma Meesseman hit three jumpers in the lane over the first four minutes. The Mystics were still looking at a double digit deficit but starting to regroup.
"We had them (Washington) down and should have put the ‘metal to the pedal'," Charles said. "We missed some block out assignments and that is myself included. They (Washington) also hot some tough shots."
Liberty pull out a tough OT win against Mystics
It took buzzer-beaters, overtime, and getting back a lead as high as 15 points, but the New York Liberty pulled off an 80-76 win against the Washington Mystics.
The Liberty also missed a few assignments on close outs on perimeter shooters. Suddenly the Mystics had looks with daylight that was not available the first quarter.
With six minutes remaining Anna Cruz's three pointer gave the Liberty a nine point lead. Washington would not go away. The lead was a single point when Sugar Rodgers made a crucial steal with a dozen seconds left. The Liberty guard hit one of two free throws, opening the opportunity for Bria Hartley to tie the game with a layup with 0.6 seconds remaining.
In overtime Rodgers buried a three pointer with just under two minutes to play, giving the Liberty a lead they would not relinquish.
"I was thinking of that missed free throw, no doubt," Rodgers said admitting she played that extra session with redemption on her mind.
"Sugar (Rodgers) played solid defense," Laimbeer said. "But she was offensively aggressive (10 points in 17 minutes) which is what we want."
Laimbeer naturally praised this effort resulting in a big win.
"Every win from this point is big for us," he said.
What was most satisfying for the coach was that the lesser known players making their contributions. Charles led all scorers while Cruz added 13 points and Cappie Pondexter 11. The exploits of Sugar Rodgers have been chronicled. Laimbeer singled out Natasha Lacy and Charde Houston as quietly making their presence felt.
"She (Lacy) is not knew to the league," Laimbeer said of the 5-foot-10 guard. "I drafted her back in Detroit. She was wild but had talent. Tonight you saw some of that talent."
Lacy contributed six points, two steals and a world of energy in eight minutes.
The win, the fourth in five games, pushed the Liberty record to 11-14. The significance on this evening lies in the manner the win was achieved: the Liberty had the lead, lost it, yet never panicked. Washington scored first in overtime on Stefanie Dolson jumper. Momentum appeared to be on the Mystics side. The final two and a half minutes saw a swing as it was all Liberty with the catalyst being Rodgers' five points and two blocked shots.
"I just thought across the board," praised Laimbeer, "we got some really good efforts.'
At a time they were dearly needed.