It was an eventful first half for New York Liberty forward Tina Charles, putting 19 points on the board in the first quarter, and collecting three fouls by the second. She spent much of tonight’s game against the Lost Angeles Sparks on the bench, which undoubtedly contributed to a 15-point Liberty loss.
The final buzzer sounded at 90-75 Los Angeles.
“I think, like Tina (Charles) says, it’s a choice. Do you choose to come out with energy or do you not choose to come out with energy? It’s about choice, it’s about effort, it’s about pride—it’s about all of it,” said Liberty Guard Sugar Rodgers.
Averaging 17 points per game this season, Charles quickly outperformed her personal median. She shouldered a nine-point lead for the Liberty in the first quarter, which was narrowed to a two-point gap before the second. Her focus on adding three pointers to her skillset paid off, making two of the four shots she attempted.
Los Angeles blocked the Liberty from gaining such a lead throughout the remainder of the second and third quarters, keeping the score within two points for much of that time. New York came quick with the heat early in the game, but the Sparks were undeterred. They fired back in the second quarter and turned the tables on the Liberty.
“I give L.A. a lot of credit they did all the right plays in the second half, and we didn’t. Every time we seem to face adversity we have to get mentally stronger. We gave them too many easy baskets and second hosts. That can’t happen against a quality team.
“Until we decide as a collective group, coaches and players, that we become mentally tougher and execute everything we’re supposed to every play, we’re going to struggle. That’s two games in a row with 11 points in the fourth quarter, and it’s hard to win basketball games like that,” said Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer.
Both teams came into the night 2-2, the Sparks looking for their fourth championship while New York is still chasing its first.
The Sparks saw their first two-point lead halfway through the second quarter, and kept the fire through the final buzzer despite New York making a quick return mere seconds later. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Sparks took a clear lead without letting the Liberty dig themselves out of a hole.
Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler showed pride in his team’s second half performance. "I still think there's a lot we can work on but I sort of liked how we worked collectively in the second half,” he said. “We bonded together out there a little bit.
“A little bit of a resemblance of how we played a year ago in regards to our enthusiasm and just our focus and communication, helping each other out and making plays for each other. Offensively, we played with a little bit of purpose and got the ball to the right people at the right spots."
Nneka Ogwumike came alive for the Sparks in the second half with 22 points and seven rebounds. Los Angeles sustained the momentum, putting up an additional combined 68 points to round out their 90-point final score. This was the first road win for the Sparks.
"Road wins are hard. But based on what we've been going through as a team, I think just winning tonight was important whether it was home or away. We've done a lot of soul-searching defensively, and I think that we really responded tonight," said Ogwumike.
Epiphanny Prince put 21 points up for New York, with a hot streak late in the third quarter. She contributed 6 points in an 8-0 run with two steals. This was Prince’s final game before she heads to Russia to play in the EuroBasket tournament next month. Her seat will be filled by Lindsay Allen on Wednesday.