The New York Liberty (11-14) host a hot Phoenix Mercury team (13-10) on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays Center (NBA TV). It is the first game of a two-game set between the two squads.
The Liberty followed up an inspiring comeback win over the Seattle Storm on Aug. 18 with a pair of less-than-inspiring, seemingly avoidable losses to the Storm and Los Angeles Sparks. Stretches of poor play doomed New York in the second halves of both losses.
In their second game against the Storm, the Liberty led by one point at halftime before suffering through a stultifying third quarter where they allowed Seattle to post an 136.4 offensive rating while they themselves managed a 72.7 offensive rating.
Against LA, the fourth quarter was New York’s downfall. Entering the final period with a six-point lead, a Sami Whitcomb 3-pointer was the Liberty’s lone fourth-quarter field goal, as they missed six of their seven threes and eight of their overall nine shots. That they only got up nine shots was a huge part of their problem, as nine Liberty turnovers helped the Sparks take almost twice as many shot attempts.
Currently sitting in the seventh seed, the Liberty’s playoff berth is far from secure, especially with two postseason-hungry teams that are welcoming back former MVPs — the Sparks (Nneka Ogwumike) and the Washington Mystics (Elena Delle Donne) — just below them in the standings. New York cannot afford to let winnable games slip away.
That they will be without Whitcomb — the league-leader in 3-point attempts and makes and, thus, a key to their offense — for up to two weeks due to an ankle injury makes it all the more pertinent that the Liberty not sacrifice potential wins to quarter-long slumps or stretches of sloppiness.
Adjustment is the focus. Phoenix on Wednesday at home pic.twitter.com/ini5Fgfdga— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) August 23, 2021
Wednesday certainly is a winnable game.
Despite four-straight victories, and a Western Conference Player of the Week honor for Brittney Griner, the Mercury have not exactly been turning in 40 good minutes of basketball. Hot shooting has helped Phoenix survive bouts of extreme carelessness. Since the Olympic break, the Mercury have averaged 18.5 turnovers per game, with 24 turnovers against the Dream on Sunday marking their season high. However, they have shot 48.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from behind the arc in August, compared to 42.7 percent and 31.1 percent, respectively, over the first three months of the season. If their shooting regresses, Phoenix is susceptible to a subpar offensive performance that could snap their winning streak.
New York Liberty (11-14) vs. Phoenix Mercury (13-10)
When: Wednesday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
How to watch: NBA TV, YES or SN1
Key to the matchup: As noted above, turnovers have been a problem for both of these teams. In the mid-June matchup between New York and Phoenix, ball security helped the Liberty steal a win in the desert. While Phoenix was missing Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner posted a 29-point and 14-rebound double-double and Skylar Diggins-Smith totaled 25 points, six boards and five assists. Certainly, a 23-point, 10-assist and seven-rebound performance from Betnijah Laney helped New York, which was missing then-injured starters Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu, still triumph. But so did its ball control. Not only did the turnover-prone Laney cough up the ball only one time in more than 36 minutes of play, but the whole Liberty team took care of the ball, with a season-low tying 10 turns. If New York can similarly value their possessions on Wednesday, they will be in a strong position for the win.
Liberty injury report: Jazmine Jones (out; foot), Sami Whitcomb (out indefinitely; ankle), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)
Mercury injury report: Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)