It feels like the same little things are getting in between the New York Liberty and being able to win close games. Whether it’s some players missing open opportunities, or short bursts of defensive lapses, the Liberty just don’t seem to be clicking. Albeit their schedule has been fairly rough over the past few weeks, there is no denying that this team doesn’t look sharp.
Their defensive woes were put on display against the Seattle Storm, a game in which they lost 77-62. The Liberty were battling early in the game, leading by three at the end of the first. However, much like in other games, the Liberty let the Storm go on an 11-0 run towards the end of the first half. Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd of the Storm were able to carve up the interior defense of the Liberty, and both players ended up with 21 points. On the other hand, Tina Charles was held to a season-low eighth points and struggled with her offense all game.
Charles did get some help in the form of Bria Hartley, who scored her 1,000th WNBA points in a 16-point performance. The New York native’s performance is one of the few bright spots in what has been a disappointing stretch of games for the Liberty, with them losing seven of their last eight games. It hasn’t been the offense that’s been the problem however; it’s the lack of defensive cohesion that has hampered them.
Veteran Seattle point guard Sue Bird was able to dissect New York’s defense, tallying 11 assists and commanding the floor, as she usually does. Bird found plenty of open three-point shooters, while also feeding Stewart regularly in the paint. However, it was the open threes that proved most costly, as the Storm made 12 of 13 threes. This porous perimeter defensive output is emblematic of the Liberty’s defensive struggles all season. If it’s not the three-point shot, it’s sagging off screens and allowing players to cut through the lane. Charles and Amanda Zahui B were unable to stop the Storm from getting their way offensively, and the Liberty have yet to establish a dominant interior presence.
Against the Washington Mystics, Charles rebounded with 26 points and 12 boards. However, the Liberty lost their second-consecutive game as they fell to the Mystics, courtesy of a 21-point performance from Elena Delle Donne. Much like their previous games, the Liberty gave up a lot of threes, with the Mystics making 17 of 19 shots. Again, it was the lack of offensive help around Charles, along with their defensive struggles, that doomed them in this game.
It’s not like the Liberty have been playing bad basketball, though. In their losses they’ve played well and have kept the opposition close. It’s been the little things, such as giving up offensive rebounds leading to second-chance points, or getting technical fouls, that pile up during the course of a game. This is ultimately reflect in the final scoreline. Furthermore, the Liberty have been playing tougher opponents as of late. In the last seven games, they’ve faced in order, the Los Angeles Sparks, the Phoenix Mercury, followed by the Mystics, then the Chicago Sky twice, the Storm, and finally the Mystics again. Four of these five teams currently own the top four records in the WNBA. The only outlier of the group are the Sky, who are 6-11 but provided much difficulty for the Liberty over their home-and-home stand in which they split.
The reality is that the Liberty have faced really good opponents who have been able to expose their defensive weaknesses. On both the exterior and interior, their defense has let down their rather impressive offensive outputs. While Charles was able to bounce back with a dominant offensive and defensive performance, it still proved insufficient for this team. As good as Charles is, she needs more consistency from her teammates on the offensive and defensive ends if the Liberty wish to turn their luck around.
If the Liberty can steady their ship, they can certainly turn around their hopes of competing for the playoffs. As we’ve officially moved past the halfway point of the season, the Liberty aren’t too far off from winning these close games and turning their losing streaks into winning streaks. If Charles, Hartley, Epiphany Prince and the rest of the roster can rally together, the Liberty can definitely make a run back up the Eastern conference standings.