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Liberty defense stops Storm late, lifts offense in home victory

New York Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers drives the

New York Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers drives the ball on a breakaway against the Seattle Storm in the second half of a WNBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, June 11, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Storm stormed back against the Liberty on May 26 in Seattle, rallying from 10 points down late in the third quarter and scoring the final nine points in the fourth to rip the game away. The rematch came Sunday at the Garden, and this time the Liberty wouldn’t let go.

Tied with 2 1⁄2 minutes left, it was anybody’s game. Then the Liberty raised the heat on defense, forcing six turnovers. Sugar Rodgers made two steals and five free throws in the final 54.9 seconds.

Rodgers and Tina Charles contributed 21 points each, and the Liberty overcame productive games from Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart to win, 94-86.

“We made all the right plays down the stretch defensive-wise,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “It led to easy baskets on the offensive end. We’re still a defensive team. But if we can consistently score, it makes us even more dangerous.”

The Liberty (6-3) will play six of seven on the road after closing its five-game home stand with four straight victories, all after Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn departed to prepare for the EuroBasket tournament.

“We’ve seen two different teams; Piph and Kia were on the team prior,” Bird said before adding that “when they’re gone, it kind of sets the table for other people to step up. You’ve got to give the New York players credit.”

The Storm (5-4) led 83-80 before Shavonte Zellous (16 points) hit the tying three-pointer. Bria Hartley made a steal and turned it into a go-ahead layup with 2:16 remaining. Kiah Stokes had a putback with 1:14 left to make it 87-84.

Rodgers stole a pass by Jewell Loyd (19 points) and fed Zellous for a layup. Rodgers stole the ball again on the next possession and made two free throws for a 91-84 advantage.

“I was guarding one of the best guards in the league, Jewell Loyd, Sue Bird, whoever it is . . . just making sure they feel me when I’m out there,” Rodgers said.

She sank another free throw with 29.3 seconds left and hit two more at 15.9 to cap a game-closing 14-3 run. “Sugar is just growing right before our eyes, just what she puts on herself to get stops,” said Charles, who had 14 rebounds.

It sure didn’t help Seattle when Stewart (23 points, 10 rebounds) fouled out with 4:27 remaining. “It was so frustrating,” she said.

Stewart and Bird (21 points, 10 assists) totaled three three-pointers to power a 13-4 burst that cut a 12-point deficit to 43-40 at the break. But the Liberty ended up making it a very happy homestand.

“It’s huge,” Charles said. “You don’t want to play catch-up in this league.”

New York Sports