With both teams coming off of road wins yesterday, the Dallas Wings and New York Liberty met in an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference match-up this afternoon at Madison Square Garden, for the second game of the regular season.
Dallas was without their star, Skylar Diggins, as she suffered an ACL tear at the end of last season and is still healing after reconstructive surgery.
Seasoned veteran, Tina Charles, got the Liberty off to a hot start by scoring their first eight points. Charles' personal 8-0 run prompted a timeout by Dallas Wings' Head Coach, Fred Williams.
But the stop in play didn't seem to stop any of the Liberty's momentum. The first bucket for the Wings didn't come until just under the six-minute mark off of a post touch to Courtney Paris.
The Liberty stretched the lead to as many as 16 points in the first quarter, behind Charles' 10 points and the team's 9-16 shooting. The Wings managed to close the gap to 12 at the quarter break, down 27 to 15.
With Charles on the bench to start the second, the Wings came out strong—they cut the lead to eight points at just under the eight-minute mark behind the aggressive play of guard, Odyssey Sims.
Paint touches proved vital for Dallas, whether they were coming off of seals by Paris or penetration by the guards. After an and-1 by Sims and a quick two off of a dish from Karima Christmas to Paris, the Wings cut their deficit to seven with 6:18 to go before halftime.
Sugar Rodgers remained sweet for the Liberty, however, draining her fourth three of the game at the 3:50 mark to stretch the lead to eight after Dallas had just brought it within five. With 1:56 to go, the Wings found themselves down by only six points, 37-31. Paint touches by Dallas throughout the quarter continued to give them success, contributing to four of the Liberty starters having two fouls.
Going into halftime, New York was up 41-34, led by Charles' and Rodgers' 12 points. Theresa Plaisance sparked the Wings off the bench in the first half, with a team-high 11 points, including three for five shooting from behind the arc.
Dallas was off to a quick start in the third quarter with back to back threes by Sims to tie it up at 43. However, Liberty free throws by Amanda Zahui B and Charles put New York up 48-45 by the first official timeout at 4:51.
As she did throughout the first half, Plaisance kept finding a way to make key shots and keep the Wings in the game. New York stretched the lead to nine with just over a minute to go in the third, but a give-and-go between Plaisance and Paris found Plaisance at the free throw line, knocking down both shots to bring the Wings within eight, 62 to 54, heading into the final frame.
Dallas rookie reserve, Aerial Powers, sparked the Wings to begin the fourth quarter with an aggressive take to the hoop that resulted in two free throws. Shortly after that, Powers found Paris off of a pick-and-roll for two points to cut the Dallas deficit to eight.
However, the home team really started to kick it into high gear at the midway point of the fourth. Rodgers hit her sixth three-pointer of the night (a career high), followed by buckets by Charles and Shavonte Zellous to put the Liberty on a 7-0 run and give them a 15-point lead with 3:45 left in the game.
Despite relatively balanced scoring by the Wings, the Liberty dribbled it out to a 79-71 win in front of their home crowd. New York was led by Charles' and Rodgers' 24 points as well as Charles' 11 rebounds.
Charles had nothing but positive things to say about her teammate’s great start to the season, crediting it to Rogers putting in the extra work in the off-season with Liberty assistant coach, Teresa Witherspoon.
"That is just a result of what you guys don’t see," said Charles. She is always in the gym not only when it is practice time but she’s there early, she’s there late. She and Teresa [Weatherspoon], they do a great job so you can give that to Teresa Weatherspoon.
"Just her will to be better and that’s how Sugar Rodgers has always been since Georgetown and what she meant on that team and just being here. She is stepping up tremendously."
This is the Liberty's first 2-0 start since 2011, a bright spot after coming off their franchise-best season last year at 23-11 and missing the playoffs by just one game. This game marked the first game of a five-game home stand, with the LA Sparks coming into town on May 21. Slightly fatigued from playing back-to-back games, Charles was pleased with her team being able to grit it out for the win.
"It was really huge," said Charles. "I know a bunch of us including myself, didn’t have our legs so Tanisha [Wright] put an emphasis on starting in the first quarter and set the tone as much as we can, get a big lead as much as we can, and give ourselves a cushion and it worked out well."
The Wings fall to 1-1 on the season and will be on the road to face the Washington Mystics in Washington D.C. on May 18.