New York, NY -- Plenty of fans and insiders likely expected this next month to be a rough one for the New York Liberty.
Sunday marked the second time the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty have faced off in the 2017 season. But this second game would be much different than their matchup on May 23.
This is just the second game where the Liberty are missing three of their top seven scorers: Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn will be gone fulfilling obligations overseas until the end of June, while Brittany Boyd remains out with an injury. That makes Sunday’s second straight win for the Liberty all the more impressive.
The Liberty once again came out on top over the Mercury, 88-72, in large part due to the stellar play on both ends of the court by Shavonte Zellous.
Zellous finished the night with 21 points and five assists.
What made her so effective on Sunday is the fact that she was able to attack the Phoenix defense in nearly every way imaginable.
Early on, she showed her ability to drive into traffic, pull up for midrange jumpers, and nail threes from deep.
Even when Phoenix contested her shots, she was able to dish the ball out to her teammates, which explains her game-high assists number.
“Down the stretch, Zellous took over and made all the right plays in both that she scored and hit the right people, that’s what she can do and we put her in that position to do today,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said.
As a direct result of Zellous’ offensive production, numerous members of the Mercury, including Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, found themselves in foul trouble.
While Zellous’ offensive contributions were critical, it was her defense that was most influential down the stretch.
Zellous drew the tough assignment of defending Taurasi, and never one to shy away from a challenge, made her presence felt early on.
Considering Taurasi broke the league’s career three-pointer record just three days ago, Zellous holding her to 6-of-12 shooting and 17 points on Sunday is even more of an accomplishment.
With a player like Taurasi, the Mercury are of course prone to setting ball screens, since she is arguably one of the best players in the league at using them.
Zellous’ quickness, and her ability to get through those ball screens, however, slowed down any production from Taurasi early on. At halftime between Zellous’ defense and foul trouble, Taurasi had eight points on only seven shots.
“Obviously Zellous these last two games has had her best two games,” Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello said.
“She’s been aggressive and finishing off and they’ve played well as a team.”
On top of Zellous’ output, New York also had stellar production from Kiah Stokes. Stokes finished with a team-high 23 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. She was so efficient that at halftime, she already had a double-double.
“We talked about us missing two key pieces [Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn] going to Europe right now [for EuroBasket 2017] so everybody had to pick it up,” Zellous said after the win.
“I was just being aggressive and doing whatever I had to do for my team to win.”
With Prince, Vaughn, and Boyd out, and with Tina Charles held to 16 points, the Liberty showed how deep their team is on Sunday. That should make the rest of the WNBA worried.