Bill Laimbeer expected this. Sugar Rodgers had scored a total of five points in the Liberty's first three games and owned a career-high of just 10, but the Liberty coach knew her scoring potential.
"We talked about her in training camp," Laimbeer said of the 5-9 guard that the Liberty acquired from Minnesota in the offseason. "I wanted more from her. She's a solid defender. She was a great scorer in college. Where did it go? You saw the old Sugar Rodgers tonight."
Rodgers scored 15, including a game-tying three-pointer with 1:05 left, to help the Liberty (2-2) to a 70-64 win over the Seattle Storm (1-4) at Madison Square Garden.
"I played behind some Olympians in Minnesota," Rodgers said, noting that she wasn't relied on to score with the Lynx. "They needed some help scoring here and I'm able to do that."
Just as impressive was Rodgers' defense on Sue Bird in the second half. For much of the game, it looked as if it was going to be a perfect homecoming for Bird, a Syosset native who split her high school career between Syosset High School and Christ the King, where she won a state title. Playing in her first game in New York since 2010, the seven-time WNBA All-Star scored 17 in the first half and finished with a game-high 21 points, but missed two key shots down the stretch.
"This is a great building," Bird said of the Garden. "Being from here I get to have a lot of friends and family in the stands, which isn't the norm since I'm traveling all the time."
Cappie Pondexter hit a difficult step-back baseline jumper with 24.9 seconds left to give the Liberty the lead for good at 66-64.
The Liberty desperately needed Rodgers' offense on a night when Tina Charles struggled. The star forward scored 15 but shot just 6 of 19 from the field.
"The crowd got really loud at the end," Laimbeer said. "It was fun to play in an environment like that. If we can perform at a level the fans want to see, we can grow this fan base pretty substantially."