New York, NY—Sitting courtside in a brightly colored suit that would have put a big smile on Craig Sager’s face, Tina Charles’ father was on his feet in the third quarter. So was Madison Square Garden as Liberty fans watched their team take the Minnesota Lynx apart in a 70-61 victory.
Far from a fluke win over the WNBA’s elite, the New York Liberty have now vanquished each of the top three teams in the league in the past seven days. And they emerge not only unscathed but dominant—beating all three of those foes by nine or more points.
“We know who we are physically, we know who we are role-wise, we know who we are as a basketball team,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer. “Now it’s about every minute of every play and bringing that focus for 40 minutes.”
In their last showdown with Minnesota in late July, Lindsay Whalen sunk the go-ahead jumper with 47 seconds remaining to seal a narrow one-point victory for the Lynx. However, with Whalen out due to a surgically repaired left-hand injury, New York took advantage. Tina Charles’ aggressiveness on both ends sparked a dominant third quarter that proved to be the catalyzing force in today’s Liberty win.
Minnesota took an early seven-point lead thanks to sharp-shooting from Seimone Augustus and their ability to turn defense into offense. In fact, the Lynx forced six Liberty turnovers in the first quarter alone.
The first quarter represented a missed opportunity for New York as they did their job defensively—Sylvia Fowles failed to attempt a single shot in the opening period. Yet, struggles taking care of the ball on the offensive end allowed Minnesota to take a 19-11 first quarter lead.
In the second period, New York trailed by as many as 11 points as Fowles and Maya Moore started finding their rhythm. However, the Liberty got themselves back in the game by relying upon the stifling defense that has played a starring role in their recent surge.
The Liberty pulled within three points of the lead with under two minutes remaining in the first half. Shavonte Zellous’ rejection on a Fowles attempt summed up the Liberty’s defensive effort today—nothing came easy for the Lynx. Despite chipping away at the deficit, Minnesota still led 33-28 at halftime.
With the Liberty defense clicking and the Lynx offense struggling to find its flow without Whalen, the last piece for New York was getting solid offensive production. Spearheaded by their undisputed leader in Tina Charles, a decisive third quarter for New York made the difference.
“We didn’t come to win the basketball game, we came to play the basketball game, and it showed,” said Coach Laimbeer. “The game was there to be had for us if we brought the energy in the second half, and we did.”
Charles put up six points in the third frame, and even more crucially drew attention from Lynx defenders that allowed her teammates to drive, kick, and capitalize on beautifully executed ball movement. She also made her presence known on the glass on every possession—sending a stern message that going up for a rebound meant going through #31.
The Liberty reclaimed the lead in the waning seconds of a third quarter in which they outscored Minnesota 19-11. New York’s five-point halftime deficit had suddenly turned into a 47-44 lead heading into the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter, the Liberty let the full arsenal fly as Charles’ third quarter brilliance proved contagious. Bria Hartley played facilitator and scorer while Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers gouged the Lynx from the perimeter to the tune of 15 and 10 points respectively. Charles made sure her dad had plenty to cheer about—finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Offensive efficiency in the third quarter allowed New York to reclaim and extend their lead, but a constant throughout was the Liberty defense. They held a Lynx team that usually shoots 47% to a dismal 34% from the field. Most importantly, New York limited Fowles’ impact on the game as she managed only seven points.
“I think the biggest key was our bigs and the help we gave on Sylvia Fowles tonight,” said Coach Laimbeer. “We didn’t let her dominate the game inside. We kept this team on the perimeter today.”
With the win, New York finds themselves peaking in August, something they’ve made a priority after ranking number one in the league last year and falling off down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Minnesota, who has now suffered twice as many losses in the month of August as they did for nearly three months of the season, looks to find the consistency they’ve lacked in Whalen’s absence.
“We didn’t make shots, and I guess you have to credit their defense,” said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. “We took a lot of hard shots, a lot of contested shots. We’ll learn from it and bounce back on Tuesday.”