After one quarter of play, it looked like the New York Liberty could potentially be on their way to their first victory of the 2020 season, as they held 22-20 lead over the Minnesota Lynx after the opening period of play.
But things slowly started to fall apart from there, and then started to quickly fall apart once the second half arrived, with the Liberty eventually dropping to 0-5 on the year after a 92-66 loss.
As there always is with a team that’s in the midst of a rebuild, Wednesday’s game brought us both good and bad things to take away. Let’s talk about what this loss taught us.
Getting To The Basket Early
Minnesota was without Sylvia Fowles in this one, and like we saw on Sunday when the Liberty made a run in the third quarter against Phoenix while Brittney Griner sat with foul trouble, New York showed that they can take advantage of a team with a dominant big not having that big on the floor.
On Wednesday, this took the form of New York getting easy looks in the paint in the first half.
In fact, New York’s first nine made shots were layups, with an Amanda Zahui B three in the final minute of the quarter being the one time in the opening quarter that New York scored from outside.
This is where the five-out offense for New York starts to really hum: when they have the open space inside to drive and not just rely on the three pointers.
On this play, you’ve got all five players with at least one foot behind the arc at one point, leaving a ton of interior space. Not a single Minnesota defender is even in the paint in this screenshot here:
Zahui B screens for Kia Nurse at the top of the arc, and Nurse then starts driving to the basket. Initially, the other four Liberty players stay on the perimeter, where the driving Nurse can kick the ball out to them.
But then, once Nurse stops down near the restricted area, Zahui B starts cutting to the hoop. The defense is able to get to her, but not soon enough to stop the layup.
These are the kinds of shots that New York needs to get to make this offense work. They showed they could do it on Wednesday, but now they need to show they can do it when the team they’re facing is healthy.
Megan Walker’s Finally Looking Comfortable
I was very high on Megan Walker pre-draft and had her fifth on my board, so you can imagine how excited I was that she fell to New York.
A late arrival in the bubble due to COVID-19 delayed the start of Walker’s career and early returns weren’t great, but it was clear she was still working her way into game shape.
On Wednesday, we saw some flashes of what Walker can be at this level.
In 21 minutes of play, Walker scored eight points on 3-for-8 shooting, making a three-pointer and also doing this:
Walker showed some good dribble moves here, getting her defender out of position, squeezing her way into the paint, absorbing contact, and then finishing the layup.
Walker’s three-pointer isn’t falling yet, but she’s improving her play every game and showing why she’s got the highest upside of any non-Ionescu rookie on this team.
Another Poor Shooting Night From Kia Nurse
I’m a big believer in Kia Nurse. Last year, we saw what kind of things she could do as the second option on a WNBA team.
But in 2020, she’s going to be asked to do too much — take too many shots, deal with an opponent’s top defender, etc.
On Wednesday, Nurse had her second game in a row with double digit shot attempts, taking 16 of them and making three. This came a game after she took 17 shots and made…three of them.
Nurse missed a game earlier this year with a sprained ankle. I don’t want to speculate too much about her not being at 100% yet after that, but there were times in this game where Nurse appeared a little tentative. She’d start to drive, then stop, freeze, and end up passing the ball.
This is going to be a long season for New York, and without Sabrina Ionescu to draw attention, defenses are going to key in on Nurse. That’s going to lead to more games like Wednesday’s, and it’s also going to lead to some really strong outings. Ideally, Nurse steps into a lower usage role in 2021 and is able to kill defenses with less pressure on her, but 2020’s going to potentially be a bumpy ride until we get there.
We only saw about one minute of an all-rookie lineup, with Nurse subbing out in the first quarter and Joyner Holmes coming in to play with Walker, Shook, Jones, and Odom. When Holmes subbed out for Amanda Zahui B less than a minute later, that was it for the night for the Texas product.
Having a veteran presence to help out the rookies when they’re on the floor is smart. Jocelyn Willoughby’s foul trouble might be one reason why we didn’t get more five rookie looks, but I think a good call would be to run out some four rookie lineups with Nurse or Clarendon in as the fifth player to help steady things. We saw a good bit of that from Walt Hopkins in this one.
The Third Quarter
Finally, let’s talk about where it all went wrong.
New York was outscored 27-6 in the third. They couldn’t stop Bridget Carleton, who scored seven in the quarter.
On offense, the third featured New York doing the thing that keeps getting them into trouble: missed threes.
Zahui B made a three, but the rest of the team was 0-for-8 in the quarter, with Nurse and Walker a combined 0-for-7. The shots didn’t fall, and New York’s chances of winning their first game of the year evaporated.
The problem with relying on threes is that if you aren’t a super efficient three-point team, this strategy can just completely take you out of a basketball game.