The Liberty tried everything it could Saturday night to forget about last year -- the worst in franchise history. Their new black jerseys harked back to the getups they wore at their inception, Essence Carson was back in the lineup and contributing after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, Cappie Pondexter was as pivotal as ever and, oh yeah, after three years, they were finally back at Madison Square Garden.
For about three quarters, it seemed to work. But a mismatched fourth quarter against Eastern Conference semifinalist the Chicago Sky proved to be too much for this attempted throwback, as the Liberty fell, 79-65, in its home opener.
Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 23 points and the Sky exploded for a 24-point fourth quarter to erase a tie at 55 at the end of the third. Delle Donne's three-point play a minute into the fourth put the Sky ahead for good.
"We didn't execute offensively or defensively," coach Bill Laimbeer said, underlining that overseas schedules make for limited training camp practice time. "We don't know our assignments right now and we're making mistakes.
"We weren't looking for shots, we took bad shots, long shots and we didn't play to our strengths."
The Liberty shot 36.2 percent from the floor, compared with the Sky's 45.1 percent. Pondexter had one day of practice, Laimbeer said, Tina Charles had three, and Plenette Pierson had two. "It's not an excuse, it's a reality," he said.
Charles led the Liberty with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Pondexter added 14 points and Carson had 13.
Still, the Liberty was able to keep the pace early, despite a feverish start for the Sky. Chicago's Courtney Vandersloot hit both of her free throws to break a tie at 8 with 5:49 left in the first quarter, and, about a minute and a half later, Tamera Young hit a jumper for a six-point lead. But the Liberty went on an 8-0 run, highlighted by Pondexter's baseline trey off a Carson screen with 2:10 left and capped by Carson's jumper -- good for the 16-14 lead. A second Carson jumper, a 20-footer with 53 seconds left in the first, gave New York an 18-16 advantage going into the second quarter.
Pierson hit a driving layup with about five seconds left in the third quarter and completed the three-point play to tie the game at 55 going into the fourth. Pierson's baskets came at the tail end of a 5-0 run, sparked by Charles' jumper with 1:20 left.
"If we work out the bugs, I think we're a solid basketball team," Laimbeer said. "We need to put in more practice time, as weird as that sounds coming out of training camp . . . In this league, you have to be a cohesive unit . . . and we're not there yet. We knew it going in and it got us today."