WNBA Playoffs: The Tale of Two Halves for NY Liberty and Washington Mystics

By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan and Facebook.com/CoachMcCartan)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK- With a first round bye, the #3 New York Liberty hosted the #6 Washington Mystics in a second round, single-elimination WNBA Playoff game Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden. With a historic 10 game win streak on the line, the Liberty looked to wrap up the season series 4-1 against the Mystics.

Before tipoff, Liberty assistant coach and former NBA star Herb Williams and I discussed the Liberty’s strategy.  When I asked about the possibility of the Liberty peaking too early, Williams, with a smile, asked: “What is peaking?”.  Williams said the Liberty’s strategy is to “make [Delle Donne and Meesseman] make some tough shots…you always want to make things tough for them.”  When I asked about what the Liberty is expecting from the Mystics in regards to standout Tina Charles, Williams told me: “They’re probably going to double team her in the post, so other players have to step up and knock down shots. Thats just how it goes, when your’e a player of her caliber, you’re going to draw attention.”  Who does the Liberty hope will step up in her place?  “All our perimeter players that can knock down shots….[Shavonte] Zellous”

He added: “as long as we move the ball and we react … it’s going to be good for us. We just have to stay within ourselves, move the basketball, set screens, cut hard, rebound the basketball and take care of it (no turnovers)”

At the half, the Liberty were up 41-35.

Then, the third quarter happened: the Mystics outscored the Liberty 25-10 and never looked back.  They defeated the Liberty 82-68. At her locker after the game, in regards to halftime adjustments, Delle Donne told me: “we felt like we were getting really good looks, so we didn’t change much offensively. Defensively, we weren’t rotating properly and getting out to shooters. We just had to fix that [and] we really didn’t change too much [else]. We just knew we had to get after the boards and, offensively, something was going to fall.”  That’s the old basketball adage: keep taking shots and they will, eventually, fall. With a laugh, Delle Donne agreed: “Things have to fall at some point! -We believed.”

In 31 minutes played, Kristi Toliver commanded the game with 32 points and 4 assists. She shot 53% from the field and 100% from the free throw line.  At her locker after the game, Kiah Stokes, New York Liberty center told me: “[Toliver is] a great player. She definitely sparked them and got them momentum.  Any team that gets momentum is hard to stop. Especially a team that’s good and has shooters and scorers at all positions.”

Toliver’s success allowed Delle Donne, after a slow start, to emerge.  Toliver noted: “It opens it up. Especially we were focused so much on Toliver that Delle Donne was getting wide-open shots”.  To this, Delle Donne told me: “Obviously, Kristi’s game makes it easy. We were able to ride her coattail and let her take over and do all the gritty little things to finish it off.”

Having won the WNBA Championship last year with the Los Angeles Sparks, Toliver has the most playoff experience on her current team.  When I asked her at her locker about bequeathing the lessons learned from that experience to her Washington teammates, she replied: “It’s fun.  It validates a lot. That’s why I came, to bring that winning culture to a team that hasn’t had success. I feel more good about that than any point or any whatever that I could have.  That was just a decision I made coming here, that was my #1 goal: to make a losing team better and we’re doing that right now.”

The Mystics will travel to Minnesota to take on the Lynx in the WBNA Semifinals Tuesday night at 8pm on ESPN2.

To download this interview and over 100 others,

visit on my iTunes official podcast or my Soundcloud.

NY Liberty’s Tina Charles Post-Game Press Conference

 

Washington Mystics’

Elena Delle Donne, Coach Mike Thibault, and Kristi Toliver Press Conference

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