NEW YORK LIBERTY (18-12) vs. WASHINGTON MYSTICS (17-12)
Friday, Aug. 25 • New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) • 7:30 PM (ET)
The Garden will have a playoff atmosphere on Friday night as the New York Liberty hosts the Washington Mystics in a game that is sure to have postseason seeding implications. The Liberty is currently a half game up on the Mystics in the standings, vaulting past their conference rival thanks to a season-long 6-game winning streak. However, the teams have split a pair of meetings, meaning the head-to-head tiebreaker is at stake. Making matters more compelling, the difference in positioning between 4th and 5th place at the end of the year means getting a bye into the 2nd round or having to play a pair of single elimination games just to reach the WNBA semifinals. Safe to say both teams realize what is at stake.
• The New York Liberty won its 6th in a row and 3rd-straight road game picking up a 71-50 at Indiana on Wednesday night. New York swept the season series with the Fever for the 1st time since 2001 and won consecutive road games at Indiana for the 1st time since 2010/11. The Liberty never trailed in the game, its 3rd wire-to-wire win of the year, and was led by Sugar Rodgers, who scored all of her game-high 16 points in the 1st half. Tina Charles posted 13 points and 9 rebounds, and Epiphanny Prince finished with 11 points with 3 3-pointers.
• New York shot a season-best 9-of-15 (.600) from 3-point range in the win over the Fever. Over the last 5 games, the Liberty is shooting 35-of-85 (.412) from long distance, and has seen its season percentage from beyond the arc rise to .339.
• New York will open a 3-game home stand against the Washington Mystics on Friday night. The Liberty are 10-4 at home and have won 5-straight games at The Garden. New York’s last setback at home came against the Chicago Sky on July 14.
• New York leads the WNBA in defensive field goal percentage at .408 and has held four of its last five opponents under 40 percent from the field. The Fever shot .345 while finishing with a season-low 50 points, the lowest point total for any WNBA team this season.
A looming question for Friday night’s matchup is whether or not Elena Delle Donne makes her return from thumb surgery. If she does, the crowd at The Garden will be treated to another matchup between two of the most versatile players in the game as she goes head-to-head against Tina Charles. Delle Donne has missed 9 games this season due to injury, but is averaging 18.8 ppg when healthy. Charles leads the Liberty with 19.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg.
Back on July 16 the Liberty was coming off a disappointing home loss and made a change to the starting lineup, moving Bria Hartley to the point and bringing Sugar Rodgers off the bench to spark the second unit. The result was an 85-55 win over an undermanned Washington Mystics team that was reeling from the losses of Elena Delle Donne and Taylor Hill. It was the largest margin of victory this season for the Liberty, which limited the Mystics to just .277 from the field. Bria Hartley led the way against her former team, scoring 15 points while shooting 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
THE DIFFERENCE IS DEFENSE
New York is currently on a season-long 6-game winning streak, and while the offense has been clicking since a change to the starting lineup was made just prior to the All-Star Break, the Liberty’s defensive pressure has been a huge factor in rattling off 6-straight wins. Over the past six games, New York is limiting its opponents to just 67.2 ppg, .368 shooting from the field and .279 from 3-point range. The Liberty has held 4 of its last 5 opponents under 40 percent from the field, and limited both Los Angeles and Minnesota to fewer than 70 points when they visited The Garden. New York has a +11.1 scoring differential over the current winning streak, a sizable jump from its +1.9 ppg advantage over the course of the season.
CHANGES PAYING DIVIDENDS
Prior to it game against the Washington Mystics on July 16, the Liberty made a change to the starting lineup, inserting Bria Hartley at point guard, while allowing Epiphanny Prince to play shooting guard, while Sugar Rodgers would provide fire power off the bench. Since then, New York has gone 10-3, and seen improvement across the board in nearly every offensive category, in some places drastically, particularly defensively with an opponent ppg that has decreased by more than 6 ppg.
Sugar Rodgers came off the bench to lead all scorers with 16 points in the Liberty’s 71-50 win over the Indiana Fever on Aug. 23. Rodgers, who hit her 1st 5 shots from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, matched her highest point total since Aug. 1, when she posted 16 points at San Antonio. It was just the 3rd time this season she led the Liberty in scoring, and the 1st since June 11.
LIMITING THE DAMAGE
While the Liberty has seen nearly all of its metrics improve during its current winning streak, the team’s ability to protect the basketball has not shifted quite as dramatically. New York ranks 5th in the WNBA, averaging 13.6 turnovers per game, and over the last 6 games, New York is still turning it over 13 times per game. New York turned it over 17 times in the win over Indiana on Wednesday, but the Fever scored just 8 points off those turnovers. That is the area the Liberty has seen improvement during its winning streak – for the season teams average 14.3 ppg off turnovers against the Liberty, but over the past 6 games that number drops all the way to 10.7 ppg, which would lead the league.
LIBERTY FACTS & FIGURES – KEY NUMBERS
The number of points that Tina Charles needs to move past Chamique Holdsclaw (4,716) for 20th place in WNBA history in scoring. Charles currently ranks 21st with 4,696 points.
Liberty opponents are shooting just .358 from the field over the past 5 games. Over that same span, New York is limiting its foes to just 65.4 ppg with a +12.4 ppg scoring differential.
New York limited Los Angeles to just 8 2nd quarter points when the teams met on 8/13 at The Garden. It was the lowest point total for a Liberty opponent in a quarter this season, and the lowest scoring output for the Sparks during any quarter in 2017.
The Liberty is leading the WNBA in defensive field goal percentage at .408. New York has led the league in defensive shooting percentage in back-to-back seasons.
New York is back in the playoffs for a 3rd-straight season, having qualified officially with its win over Minnesota. New York last made the playoffs in 3-straight seasons from 2010-2012.
New York’s winning percentage when Bria Hartley scores in double figures improved to .769 as the Liberty is 10-3 when their starting point guard scores at least 10 points. With Hartley starting at the 1 New York is 15-5 (.750) in 2017.