The New York Liberty now head into All-Star Weekend confident as the number one team in the Eastern Conference. They gained their fifth consecutive win in a rough victory Wednesday night against the L.A. Sparks.
This was the lowest scoring game all season for the Liberty as they shot a mere 25% from the floor. The Sparks bailed New York out by putting them on the free throw line 17 times, and allowing them to snag 19 offensive rebounds.
Tina Charles, whose coming off her season high of 30 points against Seattle, led her team with 14 points to match her 14 rebounds. She was one of the only two New York starters who scored in this game. The other being Epiphanny Prince, who had 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Kristi Toliver, who remained pretty silent in the first half, ended up leading the Sparks with 16 points. Toliver hit a 3-pointer in the final 22.4 left seconds of the game to come within three points of the Liberty, but missed an inside jumper the following possession that locked in the win for New York. Nneka Ogwumike, who averages 18 points a game, allowed New York to get her out of rhythm, and she ended the game with just 6 points.
The Sparks just recently ended their five-game slump with a 70-65 home defeat over the defending champions, the Phoenix Mercury. Jantel Lavender had 19 points, and 11 rebounds for her ninth double-double and Ogwumike had 17 points. Although having the worst record in the league, things are looking up for L.A. as Candace Parker will be back in the lineup their first game after the all-star break against the Minnesota Lynx.
L.A. had a great defensive start with an excellent job by Lavender protecting the paint, which in turn gave New York problems finishing inside shots. In the first five minutes of the game, L.A. was able to hold the Liberty to just 21% shooting from the field. However, the Sparks, who led the majority of the first, received two technical fouls in the quarter alone. The second technical gave the Liberty the chance to tie 12-12. Both teams had a low scoring start, a pattern that continued throughout the following quarters.
Rookie Crystal Bradford, the 7th overall 2015 draft pick, made her first game appearance with the Sparks and scored her first career points with just 20 seconds of her entry in the second quarter. However, L.A. did not keep up their momentum on defense and the Liberty, leading the league in rebounds, got off many second chance points. Center Avery Warley-Talbert came off the bench and scored her first bucket, giving New York their first lead, in which they kept throughout the game. New York went on a 7-0 run in the last three minutes of the first half, going into halftime 31-24. The second quarter was the worst point production all year for the Sparks who scored a mere 10 points.
Both teams came into the second half seeming a little fatigue, resulting in lazy passes and off the mark shots. The Sparks, who continued to struggle to score in the second half, held New York to just 26% shooting in the third quarter, just 1% above their overall shooting. It was a sorry performance by both teams, each who made just three field goals in the third quarter. But the Liberty was able to hold off the Sparks throughout the fourth quarter and go into the All-Star weekend on top.
From Wednesday night's performance, both New York and L.A. are in great need of the break coming up as the players of the Eastern Conference battle those of the West. Charles is the only player from both teams that made a starting lineup. However, Brittany Boyd, Sugar Rodgers, Swin Cash, and Kiah Stokes are all receiving votes for Team East while Sparks' Ogwumike, Toliver and Jantel Lavender are receiving votes for Team West.