Through three quarters, this game seemed like the Liberty’s to lose.
Then Sue Bird stepped up in the fourth for the second time this season against the New York Liberty.
Bird scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 16 points and three assists. Combined with her 13 fourth quarter points in the first meeting in New York, Bird has scored 24 total fourth quarter points against the Liberty.
The Storm were down by as many as 10 points in the second quarter before using a 13-1 run to take a three-point lead during the third. Swin Cash led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds and forward Jana Vesela came off the bench to score 10 points.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin led the way for the Liberty with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Cappie Pondexter added 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
What won’t show up in the box score is the defensive void left by Lauren Jackson. The Storm are getting killed inside by Taj McWilliams-Franklin and from the perimeter by Cappie Pondexter. Rather than settling for perimeter shots as usual that Liberty are taking advantage of the the missing 6-foot-5 defender for the Storm.
The Storm did however show signs of life in the second quarter with Jana Vesela coming off the bench for two big threes and Swin Cash continuing to be aggressive going to the basket. The big difference though in the second quarter is that the Storm started to find easier shots, both due to more aggression going to the basket and increasingly lax Liberty defense. The Storm shot 57.1 percent in the second quarter, including 4-of-5 from the 3-point line to cut a lad that was as much as 10 in the second down to four.
If the Storm can cut down on the turnovers and continue to go to the basket, they’ll have a good chance to win this game without Jackson, a huge boost to an already strong team.
Jackson suffered a concussion after catching an elbow from DeLisha Milton-Jones in Saturday's 75-62 victory in Staples Center. Jackson managed to finish the game with 20 points and 8 rebounds unaware of the severity of the incident. After the game, Jackson called Milton-Jones a thug as the two seem to get tangled up in almost every game they play. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only rough and tumble play on Saturday.
As described on SBN's Swish Appeal, the increasing physicality of WNBA basketball was on display around the league on Saturday leaving WNBA message boards and blogs buzzing about the potential of suspensions. The Liberty were at the center of what might have been the biggest incident of the weekend with guard Cappie Pondexter fouling Phoenix Mercury forward Penny Taylor hard on a layup. SBN Arizona's Seth Pollack has suggested the apparent wind-up that Pondexter made is indicative of an intent to hurt Taylor while others around the blogosphere and Twittersphere have suggested Pondexter was going for the ball. You can be the judge of that, but ultimately Pondexter was ejected and fined and the Liberty are reportedly looking to move on from the event.
At this point, both teams are trying to move forward with a win. For the Liberty, playing the Storm without Jackson is huge -- the Liberty have been in the bottom half of the league in rebounding for most of the season and obviously crashing the boards will be easier with Jackson out. However, Storm point guard Sue Bird has a history of stepping up with Jackson out and if the first meeting between these two teams is any indication, Bird will be the key.
Bird played one of the best games of her storied career, finishing with 22 points and 10 assists, including 13 of the Storm's 30 fourth-quarter points. The outing was just the second 20-10 performance of her career, and it was the most points she's ever scored in a double-double. Not to be overlooked, Jackson had a 20-10 effort of her own with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Wright made a career-high three shots beyond the arc and scored a season-high 18 points, while Swin Cash contributed 16 points and seven boards.
Bird and rebounding aside, a large part of the Liberty's success will depend on what they do -- all season they've had a tendency to settle for jumpers rather than taking the ball hard to the basket. Coaches and players alike acknowledge the problem, but for some reason it keeps happening, as described by Swish Appeal's Lisa Rotter after the first meeting.
When New York runs the transition game, they look at once more aggressive and more organized. I spent much of my last article begging for the ladies to get in the paint, and I will spend much of this one pleading for transition offense. My request for a post presence still stands, however. Even coach Donovan lamented that the team, "settled for jump shots instead of getting into the paint." For there are few things more frustrating than watching a team launch shot after long shot while their opponent continues to find themselves getting easy points at the free throw line as a result of driving to the basket.
With Jackson out, it would be especially frustrating for Liberty fans to watch their team shoot themselves out of this particular game from the perimeter.