NY Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer made some instrumental changes to his starting lineup, which proved to be a winning formula. During the off season, the Liberty traded Carolyn Swords to the Seattle Storm in a three-team trade that brought Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley from the Washington Mystics to the Liberty.
Vaughn, while sharing time at center with Kia Stokes, has proved to be an inside presence for the Liberty, playing tough defense, while averaging 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 points per game. Vaughn and Stokes are a potent one-two punch on defense for the Liberty, leaving forward Tina Charles to do what Charles does best: score, rebound and assist.
Nonetheless, it was the insertion of speedy point guard Hartley into the starting line-up that turned a mediocre Liberty season, into a very possible Championship season.
“It became clear that we were struggling offensive-wise to score. We were in the high 60’s, low 70’s (in points) and that is not going to get it done in this league. We needed to get easier baskets and that meant push the pace,” said Laimbeer.
The Liberty moved Epiphany Prince to the shooting guard position and Hartley into the point guard slot, while designating guard Sugar Rogers, to a sixth woman position, coming off the bench. And it worked!
The Liberty immediately won back-to-back games, while scoring 85 points against the Mystics, on July 16 and 96 points versus Connecticut Sun, on July 19.
In fact, the Liberty record is 12-3, since the revised starting lineup was implemented, while winning their last eight straight games.
The Liberty beat the Washington Mystics, 74-84, at Madison Square Garden, on Friday. The significance of this game was that it was a “Tiebreaker Game,” with Playoff implications. The two-teams had split the season series with one win apiece and this was their final meeting in the regular season.
If there was any doubt just how essential this win was for the Liberty, the end of the first half put things in perspective. The Mystics started to gain momentum with a, 40-37 lead with one minute remaining in the half.
Charles seemed to feel the game slipping away. The Liberty All-Star willed her way into the middle to score four quick points. Prince dropped in two free throws and the Liberty went to the locker room ahead 43-41.
The Liberty owned the fourth quarter, outscoring the Mystics 13-6, with four of the Mystics points coming with a minute left in the quarter. “Yes, this was a very special game, especially playing against D.C. and trying to clinch that fourth spot,” stated Charles, who won her fifth WNBA Player of the Week Award, on August 21.
On Sunday, the Liberty won their eighth consecutive game by beating the Chicago Sky, 92-62, at MSG. The win clinched the fourth seed for the Liberty, which gives them a bye in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs.
The Liberty record is 20 -12, with only two games remaining in the regular season. The Ladies of Liberty are only a half game behind the Connecticut Sun for the third playoff spot. “We are feeling good. We do not want this to end. We all have great friendships on this team and hopefully we can take it all the way,” said Charles.