New York, NY — It was a battle of the coasts tonight as the leader of the Eastern Conference took on WNBA rookie Breanna Stewart and her seventh-place Seattle Storm at the World’s Most Famous Arena. It’s been six years since Seattle has beaten New York at home but that drought would end tonight.
“Every game is big this time of year,” said Seattle coach Jenny Boucek. “Since we’ve been back from the break we’ve been in playoff mode. Every game matters and we are fighting to get in, and fighting to get better every game.
“We don’t want to have any regrets. I think this team is really enjoying playing with each other and we don’t want the season to end.”
A win tonight would have clinched the third seed in the playoffs for the Liberty, and they were looking to build off momentum from that back-bounce win over Phoenix. But New York wasn’t the only team looking to carry momentum from their last game. The Storm had an impressive 91-82 victory over the Atlanta Dream, and tonight they were fighting for a second consecutive “W” on their road trip.
New York would be the first to get on the board, yet the rest of the first half would prove to be an aggressive battle between the teams. These players were dynamic in their pursuit of rebounds and points, so much so, that in the first half, they’d combine for 94 points and 42 rebounds with Seattle leading by just two points.
Usually, the Liberty dominates the boards against their opponent, but by halftime they found themselves being out-rebounded by the Storm by two.
And who were the leaders of this epic battle?
For the Liberty, it was none other than the 4,000-point living legend Tina Charles. In the first half, she showed fans the greatest weapon in her arsenal, is her ability to break down a defense. She made all the right reads, counters and scored both left and right handed, all while still managing to play patiently.
It did not matter if Charles was being defended one-on-one, or if Seattle sent a double team her way, nobody could stop her from getting deep position in the paint and scoring for New York. She also did an excellent job of not only gaining extra possessions for the Liberty, but consistently found her teammates. Charles ended the night with a team-high seven assists.
But you know the best rookie in the league would have something to say, and she surely did. Stewart dazzled the Garden. She managed 23 points, and nine rebounds -- her sheer athleticism was evident, as she muscled past opponents right to the basket. Her athleticism really came through on the defensive end for Seattle, as she swatted away a game-high three blocks.
However, Stewart wasn’t alone, as she was standing with an army consisting of Crystal Langhorne and Jewell Lloyd, who combined for 46 points and 14 rebounds. Langhorne shot a blistering 83.3 percent from the field on the night. All three players were locked in for Seattle the entire 40 minutes.
In the second half, it was a storm the Liberty couldn’t weather. Seattle put their foot on the gas pedal and did not let up. Twice this season New York has beat Seattle and tonight the Storm made sure it would not be a regular season sweep.
“Their pick-and-roll’s got us,” said Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer. “We tried a different pick-and-roll defense than we normally do and it didn’t work. It got them going and got them confident and they made shots. We can’t get up and down in an up and down game, that’s their game. We’re a half court team.”
Seattle was relentless going to the rim, as they outscored the Liberty by 22 points and took home the road victory, 102-78.
“Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs for a couple years now and it would be huge,” said Stewart.
The Storm will continue their road trip to play Washington on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 pm ET. New York will host the Connecticut Sun on Friday where tip-off is set for 7: 30 pm ET.