NEW YORK CITY - A few weeks ago the eulogies were being written on the New York Liberty season.
Now, there has been about face.
The tales of doom have been edited and praises are being sung. The Liberty knocked off the Minnesota Lynx 87-80 at Madison square Garden Sunday - a signature win. Of greater significance, a third straight, fourth in the last five, putting the team in a euphoric state with momentum backing them up. Observers are taking notice.
The dramatic turn of events is so much easier to understand when you listen to coach Bill Laimbeer. Following the win on Sunday one of the things the Liberty mentor emphasized was how much he enjoys his job and working with this team.
"I love going to work everyday," Laimbeer said. "This is just a great group to work with and everyday they come to practice willing to work and get better."
There is a lot to ascertain from Laimbeer's observations. Coaching '101' tells you it is better for a player to 'have character rather than be a character'. Other coaching clichés are applicable. Coaches want to be surrounded by good people on the staff and floor. Truth is, this group is what you want, a unit devoid of malcontents. It is a collection of individuals that enjoys striving for a common goal together and getting along with each other as teammates.
Tina Charles led the way on Sunday with a game pacing 32 point, 10 rebound effort. Charles is more effective and comfortable of late. An added asset to the team is her presence in the locker room.
"Tina (Charles) struggled a little early on," Laimbeer said. "Now she is comfortable with her role."
She also sets a great example by "carrying out her responsibilities on and off the court," per Laimbeer.
Cappie Pondexter is also a leader able to lift a team with a momentum changing steal or penetration to the basket. She added 18 points adding 11 rebounds. Over all the Liberty had four players in double figures (Anna Cruz and Plenette Pierson both had 10).
"That doesn't happen often for us," Laimbeer said with a chuckle. "When we get offense like that, it's great because you know defense is our strong point and we will defend."
The coach was extremely satisfied with the ‘role players'. Charde Houston (4 points 3 assists) and Sugar Rodgers ((5 points 2 assists) for instance. "Our role players did their jobs and what we expect them to do," Laimbeer praised.
The Lynx were without Seimone Augusts and Rebekkah Brunson, both out with injuries. Laimbeer admitted their absence was a factor but added through his professional playing and coaching experience, injuries are a fact of life. An adversity teams have to fight through.
On his end, Laimbeer made a solid move. The score was knotted at 48 at the half. The Lynx , Maya Moore (a team high 25 points on the afternoon) in particular, did a good job of breaking down the Liberty defense through dribble penetration. Laimbeer decided to pack the defense in the final half.
"We wanted to see what they (Minnesota) had from the perimeter and shut off the inside game," Laimbeer said.
It worked as the Liberty limited the visitors to 32 second half points.
Next up for New York, now 7-11, is a road game this evening at San Antonio. The Stars defeated the Liberty at MSG in early June. A month ago this Liberty team was a lot different. Struggling and searching for identity. Laimbeer realizes the road is a challenge but there as an air of confidence. As Pondexter said in the locker room after Sunday's triumph.
"I'm excited, I really am excited about this team and what we can do."
And why not?