The New York Liberty seem determined to undo all the goodwill they so carefully orchestrated with their play earlier this month. After achieving an almost unprecedented level of success for the franchise by embarking on a three-game winning streak, the Liberty have now dropped two straight, with their latest loss coming in Friday’s contest against the Los Angeles Sparks, which saw the Liberty get outscored by 14 points as the Sparks prevailed 68-54. Offensively, the Liberty were too much of a mess, and with the Sparks not really making too many missteps in the contest, the Liberty simply could not keep pace with their opponent. Not even playing at home gave the Liberty enough of a boost to overcome their own shortcomings.
Outside of a few players, the Liberty were an unmitigated disaster on offense and shot so poorly from the field one wonders if even increasing the basket’s circumference would have been enough to assist the team in shooting a respectable percentage from the field. As a team, the Liberty posted a true shooting percentage of 41.9 percent and only scored 75.0 points per 100 possessions, remarkably anemic numbers and ones that suggest that they have not completely solved their offensive woes.
In addition to the Liberty’s awful shooting numbers, keeping their offensive efficiency at sub-optimal levels was the cripplingly high number of turnovers the team accounted for. The game was played at a glacial pace so there were not many possessions to go around to begin with, and the Liberty made basketball life immensely more difficult for themselves by turning the ball over on 22.2 percent of their possessions; a turnover percentage that high is usually a key ingredient in the recipe for offensive mediocrity.
What productive offensive players there were for the Liberty on Friday in terms of field goal percentage – Tina Charles (20 points on 10-of-17 FGs), Alex Montgomery (10 points on 4-of-8 FGs), and Plenette Pierson (8 points on 3-of-3 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) – were easily negated by the sheer multitude of errant shots their teammates heaved in the direction of the rim. However, even the aforementioned players were not entirely innocent of blame regarding the Liberty’s offensive struggles as Charles turned the ball over five times and Montgomery brought two possessions of her own to an unmerciful end with her turnovers.
Surprisingly, despite their own sabotage efforts, the Liberty were still in the game late into the third quarter; with 1:47 remaining in that period, the Liberty’s deficit was a scant two points. Unluckily for the Liberty, after Plenette Pierson's two free throw makes, the team began to miss shots with such regularity and frequency that defeat was the only option remaining. Few teams will be able to withstand scoring just four points in the fourth quarter and still walk away with a victory; the Liberty do not happen to be such a team.
The Sparks did not finish the game strong, either, managing just 12 points in the fourth quarter, and were held for the entire game below their usual level of offensive efficiency by the Liberty, but the strength of their frontcourt proved to be the difference for the squad. Their three starting frontcourt players – Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Jantel Lavender – combined to score 43 of their team’s 64 point total and powered their team to a road victory, turning enough of their offensive possessions into point-producing affairs to keep the Liberty at bay.
As is usually the case when the Liberty lose, it was their failures on offense that cost them a victory. And if the Liberty cannot rediscover their shooting form from their three-game winning streak soon, we will soon be looking at their wins as something of an aberration and not a true indicator of how good a team the Liberty are. Rather, the victories will be only a hint of what the team could be if all the players played their best in every game, a too-rare event for the organization’s liking.