In 2018, the New York Liberty won seven games. In 2019, the New York Liberty have also won seven games, but they’ve also only lost seven. Through 14 games, the Liberty are sitting at .500 after finishing last year 7-27. The addition of Asia Durr and the huge leap that Kia Nurse has taken have turned the Liberty into a playoff contender.
The Liberty got that seventh win on Friday against the Phoenix Mercury, coming back from an early 13-point deficit to secure the 80-76 victory. Nurse led the way with 26 points, making four three-pointers against a Mercury team that’s been especially susceptible to the three-ball this season, and Tina Charles added in 23 points and 12 rebounds of her own. The duo’s 49 combined points fell just short of the 50 they combined for in New York’s win against Seattle.
Reshanda Gray had another double-digit rebound game, while Brittany Boyd had six assists. Tanisha Wright added five assists off the bench, continuing to make the argument that she needs to stay in the team’s rotation.
The Liberty got off to a slower start than Phoenix, with the Mercury making 62.5% of their first quarter shots to 46.7% for New York. The Liberty ended up with 38 points in the paint on he night, plus a 15-5 advantage on fast break points.
Let’s look more at a few things from this game.
Plays of the night
Here, without much commentary, are some of the best plays from the Liberty’s night.
Here’s Tina Charles getting triple-teamed and still making the bucket:
Here was a strong finish by Asia Durr:
Here’s what might have been my favorite play of the night, as Brittany Boyd applies some strong pressure defensively and comes away with the steal, which she then turns into an assist to Kia Nurse:
Stopping Brittney Griner…didn’t go well
Sure, the Liberty won, but it wasn’t all pretty. I was really worried coming into the game that the Liberty would get destroyed inside by Mercury big Brittney Griner. Griner came into the game leading the league in field goals made per game in the paint, while the Liberty allow the third-most points in the paint per contest and are still without their two best centers with Amanda Zahui B and Kiah Stokes in Europe. This had the recipe for just utter chaos.
And, well…it kind of was! Griner scored 30, the fifth-highest scoring game of the season, and was 11-for-19 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line. Her shot chart looks almost exactly as you’d think Griner’s shot chart would look:
The problem? Reshanda Gray in foul trouble and the Liberty just lack the size needed to combat Griner.
Griner’s just so strong, which allows her to get deep position in the post at will. On this play, for example, she gets to her spot, turns around to get the ball, and then is just able to back down Avery Warley-Talbert with ease. Gets to her spot, fires up the little turnaround hook, and BOOM, basket.
I mean, how do you stop this? New York’s big flaw right now may be their post defense. Zahui B’s return will help with that, as she’s become so much better on that end this year. Kiah Stokes helps too. But neither player will be around for Sunday’s meeting with the Aces, which means Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson can have a huge impact on the inside.
What’s this roster about to look like?
As I’m writing this recap, I’m also watching the end of Russia/Sweden and Amanda Zahui B. blocked a couple of big shots late to get Sweden the win. That, of course, got me thinking about how different the Liberty are about to look with potentially four players returning from EuroBasket. (I say “potentially” since I’m not sure we have clarity on the Marine Johnannes situation yet.)
WNBA teams can have 12 players on their roster, but players on the suspended list don’t count against that. The Liberty’s situation is this: They opened the season with 12 players plus two — Stokes and Johannes — on the suspended list, then when Zahui B and Bria Hartley went to Europe, they were able to add Avery Warley-Talbert on a hardship. That puts them at 15 players who are currently rostered. You’ll have to cut that down to 12.
If we assume all four of those returning players make the roster, the Liberty will have a lot of decisions to make. Tiffany Bias, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, and Avery Warley-Talbert would make the most sense as cuts, even though it’s been Han Xu who has been a DNP-Coach’s Decision for most of the season. New York won’t risk losing a promising young player in Han, right?
This might be a time for the Liberty to get active in the trade market, but the problem with that is how soon they’d have to make moves with these players likely returning in the next week.
Whatever happens, things are about to get wild for New York.