The New York Liberty, which has made no secret of its goal to win the WNBA title, got a blunt message about what it’s going to take to make that happen.
The ego-check the Liberty received wasn’t delivered by the undermanned San Antonio Stars. It was delivered by their coach.
New York opened an 18-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter and coasted to a 73-64 win over San Antonio in The Garden.
The fans cheered as the players left the court. But once the locker room door closed, the only sound the Liberty heard was that of Bill Laimbeer. He didn’t hand out ear plugs.
Tina Charles and the Liberty voice their expectations for the 2017 season, as the team is hungry for a championship run.
“Collectively, top to bottom, I thought this is the worst possible effort we could have put forth tonight,’’ Laimbeer said. “And I told them so in very strong language.
“We have to learn what it really takes. We don’t have it yet. We’re all talk right now. Whether their actions will come around for us to be an elite team, and a consistent elite team, that’s what we’re going to find out.’’
If Laimbeer didn’t have this post-game diatribe queued up going into the opener, he did a remarkable job of ad-libbing.
Laimbeer, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Detroit Pistons, knew this was the perfect time to get his player’s attention. On paper, it looked like a fine way to start the season.
Of the 11 Liberty players that took the court, 10 scored – five in double figures – led by Tina Charles with 12. The Liberty (1-0) drained 26 field goals off 18 assists. They made 74.1-percent of their free throws (20-of-27).
But the Stars (0-1), which are not expected to be an upper-tier team, were without No.1 overall draft pick Kelsey Plum (ankle) and starting guard Moriah Jefferson (knee).
A championship-caliber team would have totally eclipsed the Stars by halftime.
Instead, the Liberty eased up. San Antonio had 13 offensive rebounds for the game and closed to within 63-54 with just under five minutes to play.
Epiphanny Prince creates the turnover and runs the floor, feeding Sugar Rodgers for the and-one basket.
“I’m not going to sugar coat anything this year,’’ Laimbeer said. “We’re going to talk about what reality is.
“If you want to compete for a championship, this is what you have to do. You have to do your business individually and collectively, and you have to get it done. That’s how we’re going to do business.’’
The Liberty players weren’t surprised by Laimbeer’s reaction.
“He was probably 10 times worse with us,’’ said guard Brittany Boyd. “Bill wants excellence and that’s what we have to bring him every night. That’s what we have to give each other every night is excellence.
“Just give it our all. We don’t have to be perfect, but we can control our effort. We can control the little things. We’ve got to rebound. We’ve got to do all the little things he’s begging us to do to be a championship-caliber team. And he knows what it takes to win.’’
Exactly. Laimbeer knows this was just the first game. He knows he’s only had the complete roster in camp for three days of practice before the opener. It wasn’t going to be a pretty performance in all likelihood.
Julianne Viani and John Giannone talk to Brittany Boyd after the Liberty's season opening win against San Antonio that saw some tenacity and chippiness.
This franchise has never won a WNBA title. They have posted the best record in the Eastern Conference the last two seasons, but the Liberty were eliminated in a one-game playoff last season by the Phoenix Mercury at The Garden.
Since then, the Liberty have gotten more physical, deeper and more talented. Time to win a title.
“I hope this is the worst game we play all year,’’ Laimbeer said.
After the message the players received, they must hope so, too.