New York City, NY - Back in the day Red Holtzman patrolled the sideline and fans bellowed ‘dee-fense, dee-fense'. Those Knick teams defended, but the fans utilized the signature chant at a key juncture in the contest. These days, the New York Liberty do not have a rallying cry, yet, but they do have something those vintage Knick teams had: Outstanding defense.
Following the an 84-63 victory over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday, Bill Laimbeer was asked if he knew the Liberty were working on the best defensive efficiency in the league. The Liberty mentor admitted he is a former player from another era who really does not get involved in the analytics and numbers of today. Still, he admitted to continuously looking at the underlying numbers of field goal percentage defense and points allowed.
Laimbeer, whose team held Chicago to a superlative 78 defensive efficiency, was happy in limiting the Sky to 41% shooting from the floor. "That (defense) is how we win ball games," Laimbeer said. "That's how we play...everyone on our team defends because if you don't you aren't playing."
The Liberty sit at 14-6 perched atop the WNBA Eastern Conference. The defense has been a constant and main reason behind their success. The question beckoned, is the defense a byproduct of talent, drills or schemes? Or a little of each?
"Talent is a big factor," Kiah Stokes said. The Liberty forward has become a defensive terror inside, a feared shot blocker, in this her rookie season. "You have to want to be good on defense. You have to be a one on one defender and also play help side defense."
Stokes continued, "if you get beat, it is important to know a teammate will be there to pick up the help side. We trust each other and with our chemistry that allows us to play such good defense."
Prior to the game Sky coach Pokey Chatman spoke of the Liberty defense. Not about what makes it tick, rather how it is special. Chatman said the Liberty have something very unique, "three rim protectors. They allow the guards to gamble and get in the passing lane. If the guards get beat, someone is waiting in the lane. No team in our league has what the Liberty has, three people like that who defend inside."
The defensive question asked of Stokes was posed to Epiphanny Prince. Interestingly the Liberty guard said the defense is rooted in ‘trust'. "We all trust each other to help," Prince said. "I know if I get beat Kiah (Stokes), or Tina (Charles) is waiting inside with help side defense."
Prince said it also gets back to Pride. Some say pride is a sin. Basketball coaches feel a lack of pride is sinful. "We take a lot of pride in our defense," Prince said. "Everyone on the team has pride in how we defend."
Laimbeer said as Labor Day creeps up on the caliber the stakes are higher, and competition will be tougher. "Late in the season everyone has seen each other and can make the necessary adjustment," Laimbeer said. "That is the time when your defense (if it is good) really sees you through."