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Closing Games a Concern for New York Liberty

The number of dazzling passes or three-point shots that a team makes through the course of a game doesn’t matter if said squad doesn’t perform in closing time. Despite notching two wins through their first three games this season, the Liberty have played subpar fourth quarters – they’ve been outscored by their opponents in the final period 64-33.

We saw that trend first hand during Saturday night’s home opener and Prudential Center debut. The Libs opened a 14-point lead over Indiana midway through the third quarter, and though the Fever cut into the deficit, New York still held a commanding 70-62 advantage heading into the final 10 minutes. That’s where the Liberty offense stopped and the troubles started.

Indy began the quarter on a 10-2 run to even the score at 72 apiece. During that four-minute stretch, the Libs shot 1-for-5 from the floor and committed two turnovers. For the quarter, they only shot 5-for-19, had five turnovers and were outscored by the Fever, 24-10.

That type of play during crunch time is catching the eye of first-year head coach John Whisenant. He told media members that the team’s inability to close out games is now in the back of his mind. In New York’s season opener, the Liberty saw a late Atlanta rally send the game into overtime before they pulled away. Against Indiana last Friday, New York staved off the Fever’s hot fourth quarter shooting to hold on for the win.

Whisenant blamed turnovers and missed chances for his the late-game woes. But he also added that fatigue could have played a role in Saturday’s loss.

After beating the Fever in Indiana, the Liberty arrived back in New York early Saturday morning. With little rest, the teams did battle again that night. The quick turnaround, perhaps, is the reason why Coach Whiz has dipped deep into his bench, giving players like Sidney Spencer more minutes than they normally see.

But just three games into the season, Whisenant might be tinkering with his lineup to find the best matches. He’s been distributing minutes among the starters and bench players evenly.

What Whiz hasn’t done much of this season is play a small lineup with Cappie Pondexter and Leilani Mitchell in the backcourt together. The result has been fewer points for Pondexter, who was second in the league in scoring last season, but elevated performances by Plenette Pierson and Nicole Powell.

Pierson leads the team in scoring with 18 points per game (seventh in the league). And in case you’re wondering, Pondexter is still coming up big – she’s averaging just over 15 ppg.

Scoring points isn’t the problem; the Libs just have to do it when it counts. Fourth quarter consistency will be the key during the upcoming stretch of games, as four of the next six are on the road.

The Libs will be at home June 14 against Atlanta. They already beat the Dream this season, but New York will have to come up big to close out the defending Eastern Conference champs again.

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