NEW YORK CITY- The defensive end has always been the cornerstone of his coaching philosophy.
For Bill Laimbeer, it has been about shutting down your opponent. From his earliest coaching days roaming the sideline, running practice, diagramming a play, it has been about defense. Maybe it is an extension of those ‘bad boys' Detroit Piston days. Whatever the case, Laimbeer demands solid defense. First and foremost.
On Tuesday evening that defense allowed Laimbeer's New York Liberty to post an 70-64 victory over the Seattle Storm. The contest at Madison Square Garden evened the Liberty at 2-2 in the young season.
The defense was solid throughout but especially proved to be the game saving difference at crunch time. With three and a half minutes remaining the Liberty trailed by seven. Over the course of those final minutes they went on a 17-4 spurt. Credit the offense for awakening. The key though, was on the defensive end. Those final ten possessions saw Seattle score 4 points, an efficiency of 40.
"Those last few minutes during time outs everyone stayed positive," Essence Carson said. The Liberty forward commented how the attitude was not one of over concern but confidence. "We were certain we could do this," she added. "It was a case of getting stops."
Stops were provided largely by the defensive work of Sugar Rodgers. The Georgetown product shut down Sue Bird, a game high 21 point scorer, by forcing her into a 2 of 7 shooting performance the final ten minutes. "She (Bird) moves well without the ball," Rodgers praised. "She is such a tough matchup but I tried to play her physical."
As Laimbeer praised the defense, the coach noted the offense must find it way and awaken. Moving back to Madison Square Garden after three years across the river at the Prudential Center in Newark , Laimbeer conceded some of the players may have those 'Garden jitters' and nervousness on this big stage.
More importantly, it all comes down to execution.
"We have to play better offensively," he said. "We need Tina Charles (15 points, 14 rebounds on the night) to shoot less on the perimeter and get set on the blocks. Then we need to get the ball to her."
Laimbeer sees solid offensive potential. Beside Charles and Cappie Pondexter are the likes of Essence Carson and Plenette Pierson to name a few. And do not forget Rodgers, a strong defender, showing capability of finding the basket with a 15 point night in 23 minutes of action.
Laimbeer singled out Pondexter who has adjusted admirably to a new role. "Last year she was the main part of the offense," Laimbeer said. "Now she has to defer to Tina (Charles) at times and realize when to take over. She did hit the deciding shot for us and played an outstanding floor game." Pondexter contributed a dozen points adding six assists against 2 turnovers.
There was also ample bouquets for the mindset of this Liberty group in this young campaign. As Laimbeer said, "forget last season this is a new year. Some new faces a few from last year but a new attitude." The coach talked about approaching an upcoming road trip with a confident attitude that says ‘we are ready, we are here and will play'. Carson also echoed her coach's assessment adding how "everyone is showing a great attitude even in everyday practice."
Cynics could say Seattle, now 1-4 represented less than a formidable foe at home. Yet even wthe ‘half full' among us have to admire the way the Liberty pulled this contest out. Both groups though, would have to take note and appreciate that defensive effort.