- Tina Charles was making a case for Player of the Year
- Shavonte Zellous had taken her game to a higher level
- Kiah Stokes was emerging as a rebounding machine
- And Bria Hartley, about five months removed from giving birth, was playing big minutes
The Liberty then went into a state of decay in a 96-76 loss at Connecticut on Wednesday night, the first road game since May 27. The Sun were a woeful 3-5 going into that game. The loss dropped the Liberty’s road record to 1-2.
New York seemingly had gone from a good state to a bad state to the precipice of a worse state.
They found themselves down 10 points Friday night against the Wings in Dallas. They were being outrebounded, outscored in the paint, and some of the defensive breakdowns by the league’s best defensive team were galling if not inexplicable.
In other words, the Liberty were either beating itself or they were being beaten at their own game.
Add in the fact that Stokes and Hartley got into second-half foul trouble and the Liberty seemed headed for a second straight road loss with four more away games after Friday night’s Pride Game at The Garden against the Sun.
But the Liberty, getting great contributions off the bench, as well as from stars Charles and Zellous, rallied for a 102-93 OT win.
Zellous sent the game to OT with a spectacular off-balance 15-foot jumper with .6 remaining in regulation and the Liberty seized the game by outscoring the Wings 14-5 in OT.
All those factors make this the most important win of the season thus far.
“Great team win,’’ said Zellous, who scored a team-high and season-high 28 points. “Way to bounce back from a very big loss the other night. So we just wanted to come in here focused, test their hand. We stayed collective, and we got the win.”
The Liberty (7-4) got the win because they did, in fact, stay together and their star players played like stars down the stretch. But they also got great performances off the bench, which has to happen without Prince and Vaughn.
Rookie Lindsay Allen, the team’s top draft who was released by the team just before the opener and resigned on May 31, was solid. When Hartley picked up her fourth foul with 5:03 left in the third, Laimbeer turned to Allen.
Allen, going up against the player she replaced at Notre Dame, Skylar Diggins, was so solid that Laimbeer was able to keep Hartley on the bench until 6:09 left in the fourth.
It was Hartley’s ridiculous 3-point shot that banked in as the shot clock expired with 37.9 seconds left in OT that gave the Liberty an insurmountable 100-93 lead and broke the Wings. Hartley scored a season-high 17.
Allen finished with four points, three rebounds, one assist, just one turnover in 15 minutes and 27 seconds and a plus-7.
And Amanda Zahui B, who has struggled to find minutes behind Stokes, Vaughn and Charles, turned in her best effort of the season.
When Stokes picked up her fourth personal with 7:26 left in the third, Zahui B came in and finished with a season-high seven points to go along with two rebounds, two blocked shots, one assist and one steal. Stokes was able to stay on the bench until 4:35 left in the fourth.
“We told her to stay ready, stay ready, stay ready,’’ Laimbeer said of Zahui B. “I know it’s been very frustrating for a bench player, not getting much time, but she came in and gave us some huge minutes down the stretch and that was a big key to our winning.’’
This win is huge.
The 10-point deficit is the largest the Liberty have overcome this season.
They did it on the road.
“We need everybody,’’ said Charles, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, her fifth double-double in 11 games. “Like Golden State says – strength in numbers. And that’s us right now, not having Kia Vaughn and Epiphanny Prince. But we were able to turn it up, we stayed with it.’’
The Liberty stayed with it and went back to a good state.