On Friday night, the Liberty played what their worst game of the young WNBA season, getting demolished on the road by the Las Vegas Aces. They then had to turn around and take on another good team, the Los Angeles Sparks, on the second end of a road back-to-back. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Instead, New York had everything working Saturday night, pulling out 98-92 win, led by center Amanda Zahui B’s 37-point performance. It was a night of milestones for the Liberty:
Zahui B and Kia Nurse turned in otherwordly performances. Nurse finished with 26 points, and her ability to consistently draw fouls gave the Liberty an easy source of offense.
Tina Charles failed to score in double figures for the second game in a row, going just 4-for-17 from the floor to bring her field goal percentage this year down to 37.7%. Charles has never shot below 40% for an entire season, so it seems best to assume that this is a temporary dip for Charles, not an indication of a long term issue.
Let’s look back at this game and discuss some key takeaways from the Liberty’s impressive performance.
Catch The Zahui B Hype Train
Alright, all of y’all in the Liberty fandom who weren’t huge fans of the decision to make Zahui B the starter this year. I think it’s time for you to admit you were wrong.
On Saturday, it seemed like two things just kept working over and over for Zahui B. First, the Sparks defense just didn’t seem to have a way of stopping her when she cut to the basket. Despite having some good interior players, it seemed like Zahui B was able to just get to the basket over and over and over. Whether it was through setting a pick and then cutting to the basket, or sneaking behind the defense for a backdoor cut, or getting out on the run and somehow ending up unguarded under the basket, Zahui B put on a lay up clinic.
The other thing was, obviously, her three-point shooting. While there’s been inconsistency in the past in this area of her game, the ability to step out and hit from deep has been there. Saturday was a good reminder of how Zahui B can continue to improve from deep, which is to use picks and drives to get her separation.
Over and over, Zahui B would get out on the perimeter and set a pick for one of New York’s guards, and then that guard would start to drive to the hoop, and the Sparks would keep two defenders on that guard, allowing Zahui B to get open, grab the pass from that driving guard, and hit the three with no one around her.
I mean, look at some of this spacing she had:
At some point, defenses won’t let her get that open, but as long as she continues to take open threes and score on cutting lay ups, she’s going to be efficiently contributing to this team’s offense.
Kia Nurse Time, Again
Nurse, meanwhile, did her damage by getting to the free throw line and by collecting steals. 16 free throw attempts. Four steals, two of which led to easy baskets for her on the fast break.
Nurse struggled — as did the whole team — on Friday, but in New York’s recent wins, she’s looked like a player that’s turned a corner in this league, one who should be in the Most Improved Player conversation.
The thing about Nurse is that with Asia Durr now in town, space opens up. Things get easier. Factor in Zahui B stretching the floor out, and Nurse gets to take advantage of that spacing. There’s more room for her to drive this year. She’s getting better looks from three. She’s getting to the line over twice as much as last year. Big steps forward for Nurse.
Should We Worry About Tina Charles?
If we want to talk about something less good from this game, let’s talk about Tina Charles and her struggles scoring lately.
Charles was just 4-for-17 from the floor. She was facing a lot of resistance in the paint from Nneka Ogwumike, who did a great job of turning Charles’ paint looks into tough ones, but she also misfired on some open jumpers as well.
These past three games have not gone super well for Charles, but she’s still third in the league in scoring and fifth in rebounds, and these past three games have come against Minnesota, who have the league’s best scoring defense; Las Vegas, who have Liz Cambage inside; and the Sparks, who have one of the WNBA’s best front courts. So…I’m not worried yet. When will I worry? Wednesday against the Chicago Sky, a good offensive team that’s just not been able to get it together defensively. Charles needs to bounce back in that one.
Brittany Boyd’s 12 Assists
Boyd tied a career high with 12 assists on Saturday, finishing the game with an assist rate of 63.2%.
The main thing I notice about her passing is just how sharp and fast some of these are. Boyd throws a few passes near the basket that remind me of when I was a kid in gym class and someone would throw the medicine ball to me and I’d immediately be like “there’s no way I’m going to catch that.” There are some forceful passes to Zahui B where I’m just like “wow.”
Boyd’s never going to be a real scoring threat, but the development of Nurse, Zahui B, and Durr means that Boyd can concentrate on what she does the best, which is passing the rock. As long as she continues to throw sharp, accurate passes, things will go well.