Their backs were to the wall. Literally and figuratively. Facing first round elimination the New York Liberty did not resort to trick plays or any other surprises from the norm. It was the old staples that earned them the best record in the WNBA. Defense and control of the paint.
The Liberty never trailed as they defeated the Washington Mystics 86-68 at the Verizon Center on Sunday. That contest evened their series at one apiece with the deciding game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Numbers of note:
Possessions: New York 76, Washington 74
Offensive efficiency: New York 113, Washington 92
eFG percentage: New York 50, Washington 49
FT rate: New York 21, Washington 32
OREB percentage: New York 36, Washington 21
TO rate: New York 8, Washington 19
The Liberty saw a nineteen-point first half lead trimmed to seven early in the second half. They regrouped largely behind the play of Tina Charles. A game high 22 points, Charles was a major reason the Liberty pulled away the third quarter and owned an outstanding 36-10 edge on points in the paint.
The defensive efficiency was more to coach Bill Laimbeer's liking (though he prefers field goal percentage defense as the number of choice). In Friday's 86-83 double-overtime loss, the Liberty allowed a 95 efficiency on the defensive end. Again, too high for Laimbeer, and the team's liking.
The inside effectiveness was also evident in a 15-8 Liberty advantage in points in the paint. The offensive rebounding percentage, as noted, was in the visitor's favor. In ‘raw' totals, New York outrebounded Washington 33-24.
Washington lived on the perimeter game. Tayler Hill scored a team-high 19 points, hitting 6 of 7 from downtown for the Mystics. Her hot shooting rallied Washington from that nineteen-point second quarter deficit to within striking distance. In the end, the percentages caught up.
Washington shot 12 of 21 (57%) from three while hitting just 10 of 36 for 28%. New York, was 3 of 8 for 38% from long range. The Liberty as earlier metrics showed, flexed their offensive muscle with 32 of 65 for 49% inside.
Final notes...Epiphanny Prince struggled for New York scoring 11 points on 3 of 13 shooting. Prince had a game-high 26 points in Friday's matchup. Sugar Rodgers picked up the slack for New York hitting for 15 points on Sunday.
Carolyn Swords of the Liberty had a nice inside showing to complement Charles. Swords scored 12 points, hitting 5 of 6 and grabbing 6 rebounds (four on the offensive end).
What to expect Tuesday? Obviously coach Mike Thibault wants his Mystics to defend better in the paint. Keeping Stefanie Dolson out of foul trouble that plagued her in game two is a priority.
Mystics also need to limit turnovers. In game two they turned it over 14 times leading to 18 Liberty points. Those miscues can lead to run outs and added points in the paint by the opposition.
The Liberty must realize the comforts of home, ‘celebrity row; familiarity and the home floor do not win games. Execution does. The home court can help especially with momentum but does not guarantee the ‘W' (see game one, and two).
One of the main points will be closing out on three point shooters. Dolson and Emma Meesseman have size inside, but the Mystics are not afraid to reverse the ball and settle for a three. Hill got hot in game two. Kara Lawson can be dangerous, and Liberty faithful are well acquainted with Ivory Latta.
Defensive rotation inside and closeouts on the perimeter- the Liberty defensive priorities.
Offensively it will begin inside with Tina Charles. Having Swords and Kiah Stokes step up as they did in game two is vital.
The final numbers of note are three and seven. The Liberty and Mystics will rip off a game three with all the excitement and drama equal to a game seven. Basic math.