Kia Nurse nailed a 20-foot jumper with 5:55 left to give the Liberty the lead against the Seattle Storm, and more than 10,000 camp kids filled Madison Square Garden with positive vibes for the energized home team.
Then reality hit. The Storm, the top team in the WNBA, pulled away for a 96-80 win Monday in front of a season-high crowd of 12,488 at the Liberty’s final MSG game of the season. Breanna Stewart scored 10 of her 32 points in the final 5:05.
“They played well today,” Sue Bird said of the Liberty. “Maybe if they played in the Garden all the time, they’d be a little more motivated.”
The Syosset native contributed 10 points and seven assists to help Seattle (22-7) to its fourth straight win.
The Liberty admittedly have had a problem with sustaining effort over the course of 40 minutes. After winning at least 21 games in each of the previous three seasons, they fell to 7-21 and have lost seven straight games.
Three more losses would clinch the worst record in franchise history. After two more games at Westchester County Center, the Liberty close the season with a difficult four-game western trip.
“They never got to settle into a good flow [this season],” Bird said. “That’s kind of what I see because clearly they have the talent.”
Nurse, the 2018 first-round pick, scored 20 points in her first pro start. Tina Charles also scored 20 and Amanda Zahui B. had 17 points and 11 rebounds. But 20 Liberty turnovers led to 24 points for Seattle.
Shavonte Zellous (ankle), Epiphanny Prince (knee) and Marissa Coleman (ankle) sat out the game.
“We’re all playing for next year,” coach Katie Smith said. “We’re all playing for jobs . . . I love that we came out today and competed . . . Still, we want to win some ballgames.”
The Liberty led 74-72 after Nurse hit that long jumper, but Jewell Loyd, who scored 17, tied it with a 17-footer to begin a
game-closing 24-6 run. Bird, Loyd and Stewart sank three-pointers along the way.
“They’re just a great team,” Charles said.
Charles said she thought the Liberty came out with “something to prove,” and the score was tied at 44 at halftime.
Seattle went on a 10-0 run to go up 61-50, but the Liberty countered with their own Garden-pleasing 10-0 run to close the third.
“It’s always a great atmosphere,” Nurse said. “It’s one of the places you always want to play, that people talk about, to be able to share stories with my grandchildren when I’m old and say, ‘I played at the Garden.’ ”