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Liberty avoid Storm's wrath after coughing up 18-point lead

A tremendous comeback attempt by the Seattle Storm, led by rookie Breanna Stewart, was not enough to hold down the New York Liberty. The Liberty were up by as much as 18 in the first half, with the Storm coming as close as one in the second half.

Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

New York, NY -- In arguably one of the most electrifying venues in basketball, Madison Square Garden, what first looked like a flame that could not be put out by anyone in the slightest, turned almost into darkness. The New York Liberty lost an 18-point lead to the Seattle Storm, eventually winning by only a mere four points.

New York got off to a fast start, mostly in part to their fearless and efficient leader Tina Charles, who scored six points straight out of the gate, helping the Liberty get ahead, 15-6 in the first six minutes.

After New York opened up their lead to 15, Seattle forward Breanna Stewart finally broke the Liberty's 11-0 run. Still, however, the Storm continued to miss shots, both contested and uncontested, which allowed the Liberty to gain back that 15-point lead easily.

New York ended the quarter with domination, shooting 58 percent to Seattle's 26 percent and the Liberty already grabbed 15 rebounds.

As the second quarter began, the Storm continued to shoot poorly, having only shot only 5-of-21 so far in the game. The Liberty's lead soon jumped to 16 and Seattle's guard Sue Bird; final hit a huge jump shot that ultimately changed her team's momentum.

The score soon when from 31-13, with New York still leading, all the way to 31-21. The Liberty started to mirror the turnover trouble they had during their game on Sunday against the Los Angeles Sparks, which ultimately led them to a loss.

"I thought Breanna (Stewart) did a good job as far as what kind of plays she was doing. We weren't switching, me and Kiah (Stokes), we have to be more vocal on that; but that was the only challenge," said Liberty center Tina Charles after the game.

The Storm capitalized off their opponent's turnovers, sending the Liberty on a scoring slump, which allowed the Storm to cut New Yorks' 18-point lead all the way down to 10.

Storm head coach Jenny Boucek had this to say about her team's comeback, "We're really proud of that. We're trying to generate more fight, especially defense and rebounding.  I thought our team showed great response in that."

Then Seattle, who did not score one three-pointer in the first quarter, scored three straight three-pointers, bringing them within eight, then six of the Liberty. The Storm scored 22 points in the second quarter, and although still behind, brought the score to 39-33.

During the third quarter, it became more of a back-and-forth game, seeming less unfair, unlike the first two quarters, which were significantly dominated by one team or the other.

The Liberty soon extended their lead to 11, and that lead was improved by a smooth inside dish to from Liberty center  Charles to forward Swin Cash. The Storm, who had still yet to take the lead in the game, stayed close behind ending the quarter at 64-54, down by 10.

Seattle kept coming at New York in the fourth, and forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis brought the Storm within three points of the Liberty with seven minutes left in the game after hitting a long three. However, rookie Breanna Stewart, who had a dashing second quarter, took control again, keeping her team afloat, scoring 24 of her team's 70 points at this stage of the game.

As Seattle continued to up their game, New York found themselves in a late-game, nail-biting situation, up by only two with 47 seconds left.

A foul on Storm Bird with 4.9 seconds left sent her to the free-throw line, with her making only one, leaving her team with one point of a tie. In the end, New York's guards Tanisha Wright and Sugar Rodgers, made three free throws combined, solidifying their team as the winners, 78-74.

"Worst thing in basketball is the early lead. Nothing is easy. When you get up like that, you tend to delay a bit, and the (Seattle) Storm had their spurts of momentum," said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer.

"Fortunately, we made the right plays at the right times, and had a good enough lead. You just grind your way through it."

The Liberty's win was a team effort, with a diverse range of players adding to its close win. Both Charles and Wright walked off the court with 18 points, as Kiah Stokes had 11 rebounds and Sugar Rodgers had 14 points and seven assists.

Stewart had a standout performance for the Storm, scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Stewart also had help from her teammates Crystal Langhorn, who had 11 points and Mosqueda-Lewis, who had 10. Bird 10 assists to go along with her six points.

"She's [Stewart] finding her way of flourishing in our league, and that's through her versatility.  That's a credit to our team.  Our team has been very open minded in integrating her and giving her and us the freedom and creativity to move all around the floor and they just move around her," said Boucek.

New York's brief stop home after a three-game road trip served them well, as the team remains in the top spot of the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-6. However, they are back on the road again to face their next opponent, the Chicago Sky, on July 8.

"I think what we saw tonight, how we played versus the [New York] Liberty—they're one of the best teams in the league — and taking that to every single game, making sure that we're focused and ready for every single game," said Stewart.

Seattle is now on a three-game losing streak (6-12) and like New York, the team will also play again on July 8 against the San Antonio Stars.