New York, NY -- The New York Liberty hosted a struggling San Antonio Stars team in a matinee on Sunday. The Stars came in with a nearly identical Liberty record, but backwards, at 5-14.
New York dug its opponent into a 4-0 hole early with Swin Cash and Carolyn Swords, going back-to-back to open up the game. Monique Currie retaliated by finishing off a steal on Cash putting her team on the board, down 6-2.
Tina Charles, the league's leading scorer, was scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game. She ended the drought with two jump shots in a row, extending the Liberty's lead by 10.
Shavonte Zellous subbed in for Cash, who built the lead to 12-7 making both free throws with just less than four minutes left in the first quarter.
The Stars turned to bench player Kayla Alexander, who made her two-point play into three, after drawing a shooting foul from Kiah Stokes right before the two-minute mark.
Haley Peters, who nailed a three to inch closer to the Liberty's 17-13 lead, completed San Antonio's 6-0 run. Peters would be the only player in the quarter to register a shot from the outside.
The late success of the Liberty can be attributed to the increased depth on its bench. Amanda Zahui B's long jump shot put her team up by seven.
"We've just been talking about coming off from the bench and helping our starters and just play with confidence," said Zahui B. "We just had to step it up and give our starters some extra rest."
In the second quarter, the Stars picked up the pace, helping to erase its deficit.
Currie recovered her own rebound and turned it into a layup, drawing the point differential to just four points.
Dearica Hamby made herself a three-point play with a layup and one, making it 26-25 Liberty, with just over five minutes to go in the half.
Even though Sugar Rodgers sunk New York's first three and followed it with a jump shot, Moriah Jefferson fired back with her first two points of the game making it 32-29.
New York was outscored 14-11 in the second, sending the game to halftime up just 33-31.
With just five wins all season, San Antonio was closing in on a New York team that has won four of its last five outings.
The Liberty was still outshooting the Stars from the field 41.7 to 35.3 percent, but the Stars' bench was outscoring its starters after the third, giving New York very little room for a breather.
Opening up the fourth with just a three-point lead, Zellous hit both free throws to keep her team ahead.
Brittany Boyd's first points of the game sparked an electric crowd at Madison Square Garden. She went coast-to-coast after Stokes stole the ball on a Currie turnover, advancing the Liberty lead 60-51, and its biggest advantage since the beginning of the third.
"I'm just an energy player," said Boyd. "Whatever I can bring to the team, the fans to the city that's what I'm going to bring each and every night."
"We've got some exciting players, and they energized the crowd. That's what bench players are supposed to do, and they energized the crowd tonight," said Laimbeer.
The crowd at the World's Greatest Arena is used to seeing its teams give up leads late in the game, but Sunday's game was different, and the crowd embraced it.
With under five minutes left in regulation, Boyd and Zahui B. went on a 5-0 run, making for a much more comfortable 69-56 Liberty lead.
At this point, Laimbeer's starting five was out and watched their bench take on the Stars' starters.
Zahui B. was called on a shooting foul on Currie who sank both free throws, but was still down 71-63.
The Zellous and Zahui B. combo sent New York to its win over San Antonio. Zahui B. led the team with 14 points, just three short of her career high and Zellous put up 10 total.
Currie finished the game with 17 points and was followed by Sydney Colson and Jefferson, who had 12 and 11, respectfully.
It wasn't the usual offensive game that New York is used to. Rodgers led Liberty starters with 11 points, and Charles put up just 10 points all game.
The game ended in a 75-65 Liberty victory, marking the team's third in a row, but this one had a little more flavor to it.
LIBERTY HONOR DALLAS VICTIMS
The way post-game coverage usually goes at The Garden is Coach Laimbeer holds his press conference in the media room; then the locker rooms open up for the player interviews.
Today's game was different. After Laimbeer left the room, five Liberty players walked in wearing black t-shirts with white writing and three different hashtags; they were honoring the lives lost in the shooting earlier this week in Dallas.
Not only was this their stance on social equality, but it was their way of expressing how the recent events affected their personal lives.
"My husband is 6-6, 220. If my husband gets pulled over when you look at him, does he make you scared? Is something going to happen to him? Those are things that go on in my head," said Cash.
There were two hashtags on the front of the shirt and one on the back. The front said #Blacklivesmatter and #Dallas5.
The team wanted to honor the African Americans, as well as the five police officers killed while trying to protect those in the peaceful protest. All five Liberty players made it known that not only do they relate to the African-American victims, but also have relatives that have served the country in the police force.
The back of their shirts had a #_________ because they feel creating a new hashtag everyday will help continue to spread the word.