After an 84-76 loss to the Atlanta Dream on July 12, the New York Liberty reshuffled their lineup. Head Coach Bill Laimbeer inserted Carolyn Swords into the starting center slot to take some pressure off of All-Star Tina Charles.
"Tina's a four, not a five," Laimbeer told Swish Appeal. "Everybody says, ‘No, you're crazy,' but no, she's a four! We don't need her to get worn out banging against the big centers in this league. It just wears her down and takes away from her energy on offense."
"It was a natural progression to put Carolyn in the starting lineup because she can go bang with the big centers."
At 6'6", 206 lbs. Swords is a solid presence in the post. With her size and length, she's able to change shots and protect the paint on defense, while being a steady contributor on offense.
"She's a very solid teammate and a good team defender," Laimbeer said of Swords. "She's not anything spectacular, but she'll swat her fair share of shots. She plays solid plugging team defense and keeps people out of the paint. She's arguably our best post defender when it comes to denying the basketball into the post."
Since Swords' insertion into the starting lineup, the Liberty have won 8 of their last nine games - a run that included a five-game winning streak with three victories coming during a west coast road trip.
The Liberty are currently riding a three-game winning streak and sitting atop the Eastern Conference with a 15-6 record. In typical Bill Laimbeer fashion, his team is doing it with defense.
"We're a solid defensive ball club, both from field goal percentage against and rebounding," Laimbeer explained. "We're number one in overall rebounding (38.1 RPG) and we're number one in percentage against (37%). That's where we hang our hats."
"We're very dedicated to being a defensive team and we take pride in it."
New York's success is partially due to Swords taking on the dirty work formerly assigned to Tina Charles. Lightening the defensive load for the former league MVP has given her the freedom to do what she does best - score. Charles is once again a candidate to be the league's Most Valuable Player and could be leading the Liberty to the WNBA Finals.
Carolyn Swords couldn't dream of a better scenario. In 2013 as a member of the Chicago Sky Swords tore her MCL, missing over half of the Sky's first winning season and their first ever playoff appearance. Months later she re-injured the same knee, underwent another surgery, and was subsequently waived by Chicago.
Out of the league in 2014, Swords spent her time back home in Massachusetts rehabbing her knee and preparing for a return to basketball. Swords' return happened in Europe, as the starting center of Acqua & Sapone Umbertide in Italy. Overseas she averaged 14 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks while shooting 62% from the floor.
Swords' high level of play and exemplary presentation of perseverance caught the eye of the New York Liberty, and now she's back where she belongs - in the WNBA.
Swish Appeal: How rewarding is it to be healthy and playing after the injuries you've endured over the last two seasons?
Carolyn Swords: It's really exciting to be playing again and to be feeling good. It's really a testament to the doctor's, my PT's, coaches, and everyone who has helped me to get back on the court. It's a lot of fun. I feel really lucky to be able to keep playing.
SA: What was the toughest part about being on the sidelines for that long?
CS: That's a good question. I think you really just start to miss the game, especially when you go for such a long period of time. I think I was out for a little over a year. Luckily I had some time to focus on other things, be home with my family, and do some things that I don't normally get to do. I was able to see my younger brother play for the first time and be home with my sister when she was graduating from high school. That's valuable time that I wouldn't have had otherwise, so, just looking at the positives.
SA: What led to your decision to come to New York?
CS: I was over in Italy when free agency opened up, and I had a great conversation with New York. I was just really excited for the opportunity to join the team, and it's been a lot of fun.
SA: Did having former teammates like Avery, Swin and Piph on the roster make your transition to New York easier?
CS: Yeah, of course whenever you've played with players for a number of years, it just gives you some instant chemistry. We were all trying to figure out how that would work in the greater group, and it's been a lot of fun.
SA: What's it like playing for Coach Laimbeer?
CS: It's great. I feel like I'm learning a lot. He's a very knowledgeable head coach. He's very invested in teaching all the players and the group. It's a fun, interesting, and challenging day every day at practice.
SA: What's it like playing in the Garden? That's a special place.
CS: It is. It's really incredible. To be able to call that my home court for a season is really unbelievable. I feel really lucky. We have great fans at Madison Square Garden, and I love being able to play there.
SA: What would you say is the main reason that the Liberty is at the top of the Eastern Conference right now?
CS: I think we've just come in and worked really hard every single day from day one. We've been really committed to putting that effort in for each other. We've been really committed to studying the game and making sure we're playing hard whenever we're on the floor. Whenever we can control what we can control and put forth that effort we believe good things will happen.
SA: How impressed are you with Kiah [Stokes]? For a rookie, she's been pretty incredible.
CS: She's been incredible. It's kind of a luxury when you have a rookie being able to come in, and you can just kind of fall into a rhythm and make an impact. She and Brittany Boyd have really come in at key moments throughout the season and been able to help us, and it's wonderful.
SA: You've been starting as of late. Do you feel more comfortable starting or coming off the bench?
CS: I don't really think about it in terms of starting/not starting. I just try to go in there and defend, rebound, play hard, and run. Whether that's from the beginning or me coming in off the bench, I'm just looking to make sure I put forth the effort.
SA: What's it going to take for New York to be the last team standing and win the championship?
CS: Every day we're committed to coming in and putting in the hard work. We're working on our defense and executing on offense. If we can just stay together and keep moving forward, I'm excited for what will happen.