The wait is over. The New York Liberty have won their first game since July 11th, beating the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday afternoon 88-78. The Liberty’s first win of the season moves them to 1-4 and out of last place in the WNBA, a spot now held by the winless Dallas Wings.
The Liberty started their third different lineup of the year after Asia Durr was ruled out before the game — the official box score listed it was a DNP- Coach’s Decision, but the team said she was feeling ill — and while this lineup — Amanda Zahui B, Tina Charles, Kia Nurse, Bria Hartley, and Brittany Boyd — won’t get another try with Hartley leaving after Sunday’s game to go to her EuroBasket commitments and Zahui B expected to do the same fairly soon, it still showed a lot of promise.
New York trailed 22-19 after the first quarter, but a 26-15 second quarter advantage gave New York a lead they wouldn’t relinquish after opening the quarter on a 10-4 run.
Tina Charles finished with a team-high 21 points and added eight rebounds and four assists. Hartley’s first start of the year ended with a 17-point, six-rebound, six-assist effort. Amanda Zahui B scored nine points and added nine rebounds and five blocks, while off the bench, Tanisha Wright made her biggest impact of the season with eight points, four rebounds, and four assists. Tiffany Bias, Han Xu, and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe joined Durr as the team’s DNPs. Head coach Katie Smith has narrowed her rotations over the past two games, and that’s led to this team looking a lot more competitive.
Below are some more in-depth takeaways from this game.
Bria Hartley’s Big Day
Hartley’s 17 points were a season high, as were her 15 shot attempts. She wasn’t necessarily efficient on those attempts, hitting just 33.3% of them thanks to a 1-for-6 mark from three. Hartley’s gone 3-for-12 from deep over her past two games and on the season is hitting just 25% from long range.
Hartley continued to provide the team with good rebounding and assist numbers, though, and was a plus-eight on the day. The team had a net rating of 12.1 with Hartley on the floor, while the team’s starting point guard, Brittany Boyd, played just 17 minutes and the team had a -17.8 net rating with her on the floor.
Here’s Hartley’s highlights from the game:
I think you could make a good argument at this point that Hartley should be running this team’s offense. Obviously, her departure to Europe (more below) puts a wrench into those plans, but hopefully she’ll play a key role once she returns. Of all the Liberty lineups to play at least 10 minutes, the usual starting lineup of Zahui B, Charles, Nurse, Durr, and Boyd has a -25.8 net rating; the version that subs out Boyd for Hartley has played just seven minutes, but in those seven minutes has a net rating of 20.8. It’s all very, very small samples, but it’s a lineup I hope we see more once Hartley returns in July.
Can Tanisha Wright Keep This Up?
With Hartley gone, minutes open up in the backcourt, and Sunday made it look like those minutes will wind up going to veteran Tanisha Wright.
Through five games, Wright’s got a pair of DNP-Coach’s Decisions, and had played a combined 15 minutes before Sunday’s game. But with Durr out, Wright got her chance, and in 18 minutes she scored eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and also added in four boards, four assists, a steal, and a block. It was the kind of performance that people thought could be a regular occurrence when Wright joined this team, and it’s something they’ll need more of moving forward.
One thing Wright has going for her is she’s an experienced player who can play the point. On Sunday, Wright was bringing the ball up the floor, making good passes, and also finding ways to get to the basket, with two of her four buckets coming on driving layups.
Wright’s career history as a three-point shooter has concerned me, but I’m less concerned if she’s able to give the team an on-ball guard who can drive and pass while Hartley is overseas.
Let’s Talk About EuroBasket
The Liberty have a problem, and that’s that two of their key players, Bria Hartley and Amanda Zahui B, are about to head back to Europe. Hartley is already gone. Zahui B will be gone shortly. What’s this team going to do?
Zahui B has really come into her own over the last few games, and she’s had two games this year with at least five blocks after not having a five block game since early in her rookie season. She’s had seven or more rebounds in each of the past three games. And while she’s still struggling to get her shot going from deep, her ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end while still getting involved in the post on defense and crashing the offensive glass — she had three offensive rebounds on Sunday — have Zahui B looking like she’s ready to play up to her potential.
But, alas, at some point soon she, too, heads to Europe. EuroBasket is happening, and she’s got commitments with Sweden’s national team.
This will leave New York down two of their rotation players. Replacing Hartley’s minutes shouldn’t be too much of a challenge with Wright and Tiffany Bias, but replacing Zahui B is going to the biggest challenge.
Remember, Kiah Stokes is still in Europe, so the most likely candidate to take over the starting is Reshanda Gray. Gray’s been a revelation this year, going from barely making the roster to playing an impressive role as the first big off the bench.
But with Gray moving into the starting role, what happens to the bench? Raincock-Ekunwe and Han are both out of the rotation right now, but in theory one of them should end up with Gray’s old bench minutes. Which one depends on how ready Katie Smith believes Han Xu is, and judging by recent playing time, the answer to that is probably not ready.
Another question — with both players heading for the suspended list, New York will have just 10 active players. Do they have the salary space left to sign anyone else, since they already have 14 players under contract? If so, who? And if not, will they be able to make do with just 10 players available? Will these issues send this team back to the losing that they were doing before the Aces game? Lot of questions, and not really any answers yet.
Head Coach Katie Smith on Liberty Turnovers
“We have goals, and our goal is 13 turnovers and we had only 10 today with the loose ball one. We can’t have possessions off; we don’t shoot the ball extremely well all the time so we need possessions we can’t allow those to go away. We’ll keep harping on it but today was a good day, it matters, and it helped us get this win.”
Coach Katie Smith on Team Energy
“From start to finish this game, I think for me, and for our crew, was one of the best energy, one of the best executions, one of the best teams…I’m proud of those who have been here this whole time, I’m proud of the ones that are here bringing it every day…every day they show up ready to go.”
Coach Katie Smith on Point Distribution
“[Tina] does draw a lot of attention and she always needs to be aggressive, but we also need other people to be able to get their own shots, to knock down shots when they’re doubling and leaving other players and I thought everyone, including Tina, was able to find other people who got good looks and were able to put them in the hole.”
Coach Katie Smith on Kia Nurse
“She’s somebody we’re always gonna rely on, on the defensive end and keep challenging her to also get better at it and depending on who she’s guarding…but I thought she was solid, she flies around, she’s gonna always compete and at the end of the day we love that.”
Tina Charles on the win
“We always had confidence… It’s just about how we close out the game. Most of the games we lost we have been in. I am just happy we were able to come out with the victory”.
Charles on the lead changes
“Being able to get stops… being able to score on the other end. Having Tanisha Wright on the other end really helped us a lot. Having her (Tanisha Wright) controlled the tempo and when to set up a play and when to push the ball.”
Bria Hartley on the win.
“It was really important we lost a couple of close ones (games)”. We (team) wanted to get over that hump and get our first win.”
Hartley on the team responding to the Aces run.
“That is just the game of basketball teams are going on their runs and you have to be able to with stand them. We made shots and stops when we needed to. We were able to limit their offense rebounding and go on a run.”
Hartley on team preparing for next opponent
“We just want to build on this… we have had great energy and intensity going into these last couple of games and we want to carry these on into the next one.”