New York, NY — A choked up Kia Vaughn welcomed fans to Madison Square Garden for Unity Day with the message, “Let Love Win.” At the culmination of a turbulent week in the nation, the Liberty hosted the first “Unity Day” to demonstrate their support and lend a voice to the fight for equality.
The Minnesota Lynx entered The Garden coming off a WNBA record-setting 59-point victory at home against Indiana Friday night. The historic win, and comfortable first place standing in the league, appeared to provide the Lynx confidence to cruise to another win.
The fourth-ranked Liberty were looking to extend the league’s longest win streak this season, after winning their last four.
Despite trailing by as much as 11 in the first half, the Liberty united on defense and shifted the momentum in the second half, to earn a 70-61 win at home.
New York had an early 5-2 lead after Shavonte Zellous found an open Bria Hartley to connect for three. The Lynx Renee Montgomery responded with a three of her own. After Zellous and Maya Moore traded buckets, the Lynx took control of the game.
Seimone Augustus, demonstrating some premier ball handling, hit a pop-up jumper, followed by a three-point basket, to extend the Lynx lead to 12-7 with 5:15 remaining in the quarter.
Liberty’s Bria Hartley couldn’t connect on a three of her own, and was denied by Sylvia Fowles. Tina Charles finally snapped a convincing Lynx run with a floater, but the Liberty were hurt by six, first quarter turnovers and five team fouls, including two from Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. Back to back buckets from Jia Perkins allowed the Lynx to grow their lead to 19-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Minnesota continued to dominate through much of the second quarter. Fowles opened play thanks to an Alexis Jones assist, and one, to increase the Lynx lead to 11. Just under two minutes into the half, Zellous found Kiah Stokes to finally score for the Liberty.
Play was stopped with 6:36 remaining in the quarter after Stokes appeared to be scratched- unintentionally, by Fowles. No foul was called, but the Liberty used the stoppage to regroup.
Out of the break, Becca Allen scored to cut the Lynx lead to 7. This could have sparked a run of their own, but a tenacious Maya Moore responded with a deep three over 6’4” Charles.
Hartley, at last, sparked some Liberty energy when she drained a three to cut the Lynx lead to five with four minutes remaining in the half. Momentum changed for New York when Charles connected on a three over Plenette Pierson to bring the Liberty within three.
The spark carried over on defense, as well, as Zellous blocked a shot on the other end, quickly followed by a Hartley steal on the subsequent possession. Maya Moore was able to quiet the home crowd and close out the second half with the Lynx leading 33-28.
Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve was pleased with the start of the game. “I thought we had a good flow to start the game; I liked where we were to start the game and that just kind of waned as the game went on.”
The Liberty came out in attack mode to begin the second half. Coach Bill Laimbeer shared, “I got on them a little bit at halftime because the first half was not who we are now. We didn’t come to win the basketball game, we came to play the basketball game, and it showed.”
His team must have taken the hint. Both Charles and Zellous picked up their third fouls within the opening minute of play, but this did not hinder the Liberty drive to gain the lead.
Zellous picked up a quick bucket, followed by Charles making her own basket over 6’6” Fowles. Charles’ ubiquitous effort on both sides of the court allowed her to bring the Liberty within one, on a jump shot over Pierson.
Minnesota found an open Pierson on the other end, who sank a three to maintain the lead. Zellous had to sit after she picked up her fourth foul guarding Moore, but this did not deject the Liberty. Epiphanny Prince hit a lay up with 1:12 remaining in the quarter, and teammate Sugar Rodgers drew a shooting foul from Perkins.
Making both, the Liberty clung to a one-point lead. To end the quarter, Prince attacked the basket and was fouled by Augustus. Prince made both to increase the Liberty lead 47-44 at the buzzer.
Throughout the fourth quarter, New York continued to perplex Minnesota’s offense. Balanced scoring from Hartley, Prince, and Charles allowed the Liberty to maintain and expand their lead into double-digits. New York went on an assertive 15-2 run that lasted five minutes, and the Lynx were not able to recover.
Sugar Rodgers credits the win to her team’s ambition of reaching the playoffs: “I think we just came in here saying that this is a playoff team. On defense, everyone is helping everybody. Just mentally locking-in and knowing that if we can beat them, then we are a playoff contender and get into the playoffs.”
A Rodgers fast break following a Maya Moore three allowed the Liberty to maintain a comfortable lead, 64-53 with 1:48 remaining. Despite several last-ditch three-pointers made by Moore, the Liberty closed out the game, earning their 5th straight win, with a 70-61 home victory.
Moore, who led both teams in scoring with 22 points, said, “We have to score the basketball at a higher level. Some of our shots, shots we normally make, didn’t go in. Other times, we just kind of lost our flow in moments.”
Minnesota still sits atop the league’s standings and has already clinched a playoff berth. Augustus is optimistic they’ll regroup and will “bounce back on Tuesday” when the Lynx face the Mercury.
New York will look to sustain their win streak on Wednesday evening, as they travel to Indiana.