“Making the playoffs? It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said Sunday after his team did just that with a 70-61 victory over the Minnesota Lynx at the Garden. “We were expecting to make the playoffs . . . Big deal. There are bigger things out there.”
Indeed, there were no injuries suffered by the Liberty players from trying to pat themselves on the back — even after the team extended its winning streak to a season-high five games, moved a season-high five games above .500 at 17-12 and clinched its third straight ticket to the postseason.
Said Tina Charles, who had 19 points and nine rebounds: “I think we should’ve been playing like that since May.”
The Liberty overcame an 11-point second-quarter deficit and rode a 15-2 fourth-quarter run to the victory in front of 10,007 fans at the first-ever Unity Game to promote positive change in the community.
The Liberty, which currently owns the fourth seed in the WNBA, has beaten the top three teams in the standings in the last three games, upending defending champion Los Angeles (21-8) at the Garden, the Sun (19-10) in Connecticut and the Western Conference-leading Lynx (22-6). “Top three teams, it just means we’re moving in the right direction,” Shavonte Zellous said.
Minnesota was missing two injured starters, point guard Lindsay Whalen and forward Rebekkah Brunson. But even without them, the Lynx scored 111 points and beat Indiana by 59 on Friday night after using a 37-0 run to take a 59-9 lead.
Maya Moore, who scored 22 against the Liberty, said it isn’t an “ideal” situation. “We win the game and we’re not talking about that,” she added.
The Liberty led 47-46 with nine minutes left. Then Bria Hartley drove for a basket, Epiphanny Prince (15 points) hit a three-pointer, Charles canned a hook shot, Kia Vaughn delivered a three-point play, Charles drilled a three-pointer and Sugar Rodgers (10 points) made a layup. That produced a 62-48 lead with 3:38 left. “The energy and the defense,” Rodgers said of the keys to the victory.
Such as 6-6 Sylvia Fowles attempting a layup late in the second quarter and the 5-10 Zellous blocking it from behind. Fowles, who entered the game averaging 20.4 points and 10.1 rebounds, was held to seven points.
Af halftime, Laimbeer said he challenged his players “to be who we are now and get out there with the energy.” And they did.