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Sluggish Liberty See Late Rally Fall Short in Loss to Tulsa

Tulsa tops New York

The scene in the locker room said it all.  The silence was deafening. A group of confident athletes were strewn on the floor, or slumped in their chairs , and in one case head covered totally by a towel. It was hard to believe that this was the New York Liberty (16-7), owners of first place in the Eastern Conference, and riding a four game winning streak, nine wins out of their last ten. Playing some of the most exciting ball in the WNBA, they felt they were on the way to becoming something special.

But sometimes there are blips, potholes in the best of roads. On the back end of a back-to-back, the Tulsa Shock (11-14) came in and for three quarters and a half, totally out played, out shot, and out hustled the Liberty and held a dominant 16 point lead led by the play of guard Odyssey Sims, who torched New York for a team leading 27 points and seven assists, while hitting 15 of 16 free throws, an area that was a strength all night.

“You could tell we didn’t have a lot of gas in our tanks,” Essence Carson mentioned. “Good teams work through that. We definitely made a huge run in the fourth quarter.” Candice Wiggins, who once played with the Shock had a feeling about the evening. “Tulsa had nothing to lose,” Wiggins pointed out. “This was like their championship game.”

They also were haunted by the return of former Liberty player Plenette Pierson, who quarterbacked the offense with her eternal basketball smarts. Pierson appeared to be on the cusp of putting the last jab in when she scored a hard layup and was fouled. She landed badly and appeared to injure her ankle, the seriousness of it written in her body language as she responded in a way never witnessed as Plenette is as tough as they come in this league. She was carried off, but it didn’t change the outcome.

The Liberty shot poorly all night to the tune of 40% efficiency. They were out rebounded 35-24. The sight of Courtney Paris (10 rebounds) contesting every play, giving Carolyn Swords and Kiah Stokes fits. The result was that Avery Warley-Talbert played more minutes last night than she had in nearly the entire season. “We didn’t do the things we normally do well,” Carolyn Swords mentioned. “By being sharp on both sides of the court.”

But the heart of a champion is often on display in the most dire of circumstances. One thing that the New York Liberty showed in the final seven minutes was a grit that is not instilled, but existing. The big two, Tina Charles, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the month, and Epiphanny Prince, who scored 54 points combined the night before in Connecticut, fought for points, driving to the basket more, as they were stripped of their trusted plays. They probed and their defensive intensity changed a game that was all but lost. Brittany Boyd showed a ton of guts throwing herself into the paint time and time again coming away with a team leading 22 points. “We have this fight in us and we have come back in games before,” Brittany Boyd explained. “This is just us and we’re making other people believe that it’s us as well. It’s not a surprise in this locker room.”

But the one who epitomized the Liberty mindset of a champion all season Candice Wiggins, would in the end suffer the worst of fates. She came on to hit two pivotal threes to close the gap to nine with under four minutes left. Brittney Boyd’s swing pivot layup cut it to five and only 55 seconds left. The Liberty were forcing the Tulsa offense into consecutive shot clock violations and the pace of the game had quickened. The clock now showed 37 seconds when Wiggins received the ball left of the key and went for another rainbow three. It rattled in and out.

But the Liberty did not stop there. Only twenty seconds remained and with the Shock suddenly missing free throws the Liberty desperately drove down the court for a final run and Candice was fouled in three point territory. If she hits all three, it’s a two point game and anything can happen now. But the air was taken out of the Garden as she missed the first. Then the second, followed by the third miss. It was over.

But there are pot holes even in the best of roads. The New York Liberty have made great strides and showed a lot by taking a game that should not even have been a point of contention and nearly stopped time and came close to reversing the result. “We definitely have heart,” Carson said, “You really got to see the depth of this team. It’s not over until the clock says zero.” Candice, stoic in defeat spoke from the heart. “We’re not going down without a fight,” Wiggins responded. “I’m killing myself because I know we still had an opportunity and if there’s a light we’re going to take it.” Swords concurred, “It shows there is a lot of tenacity and resiliency on this team. It’s always good to takes positives from this.”

But it was too much to conquer, for one night only. The Liberty are a special team and this defeat only showed their inner will and should they never lose that, nothing will be out of their grasp. “We can make excuses but at the end of the day we are in control of our destiny,” Wiggins reminded. The solemn feeling in the locker room is there because they care.  That in the end is all that New York demands of all their teams.

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