Libs Getting Wins, Gaining Ground in East

The Liberty is winning at the right time, with hopes of cracking the postseason
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It takes time to build chemistry. It takes chemistry to build a team. And, if basketball has proven anything over the years, it takes a team to win a championship.

As the season winds down and the window of postseason opportunity continues to shrink, teams will look to bank on chemistry as a means of doing damage in the postseason. If ever there was a time for a team to finally click and play as one cohesive unit, now would be it.

Enter the New York Liberty.

Just over a week ago the Liberty was tied with the Chicago Sky for last place in the East. On the heels of a three-game win streak, New York is now in sole possession of fourth place and very much alive in the playoff race.

“Any given night, any team can win no matter what the record is,” said Cappie Pondexter following the Liberty’s 71-67 win over Connecticut Sunday evening. “It’s weird because all along we’ve been saying that we’re a really good team, our record isn’t showing it or we’re falling short in the fourth quarter. But I thank God for those lessons that we learned earlier in the year because now it’s starting to pay off.”

Unlike the Western Conference, where the Seattle Storm has already locked up the No. 1 seed in the West, the East is still wide open. Atlanta recently reclaimed the top seed in the conference for the first time since the Stars at the Sun break. Indiana dropped out of first place after losing two straight. Connecticut, once vying for the top seed, has suddenly drifted out of contention and landed at the fifth seed following losses to both Atlanta and New York.

Cappie Pondexter surpassed the 3,000 career-point mark Sunday against the Sun
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“Since the first half of the season, our basketball intensity has definitely picked up,” said Pondexter, following a night where the Liberty not only won its third straight but she also surpassed her 3,000th career point. The accomplishment ranks Pondexter as the second fastest (154 games) and third youngest (27 years, 205 days) to do so. “We’re playing with a high level of intensity. Not just me, but each and every last player that steps on the floor coming in and making big shots.”

Leilani Mitchell has posted double figure points in four straight games, recording 12 against the Sparks on Friday and 15 against the Sun on Sunday. At five-foot-five, Mitchell has shown that you don’t have to tower over the opposition to come up in a big way.

“I had those shots earlier in the season but I wasn’t able to knock them down,” admitted Mitchell. “Cappie drives and she attacks so she’s splitting the defense and does a great job of finding me on the three-point line.”

Coming into the season, the Liberty looked to entirely revamp its image. In addition to acquiring Pondexter in a three-team offseason trade, New York also picked up Nicole Powell from the Monarchs dispersal draft for some added firepower around the perimeter and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a savvy vet who could plug up holes in the paint and lead the team both on and off the court.

“It’s something we said from the beginning, that we wanted to get into the playoffs,” said McWilliams-Franklin. “They bring up a lot of stuff about last year but a lot of us don’t even have a clue about what happened last year in New York. So for us it’s all about what we want to do this year. I want to be in the playoffs and I know everyone in this locker room wants to be in the playoffs.”

When the team needed a big-time scorer that could lead the offense, the Liberty swung a trade for Pondexter. When the team needed a leader and inside presence, the Liberty signed McWilliams-Franklin. But enhancing the roster was not something that simply stopped just because the regular season began. Improvements and adjustments sent the Liberty back to the market in need of help in the rebounding department. When Tulsa made Plenette Pierson available, New York swung a trade that sent Tiffany Jackson to the Shock in exchange for the rebounding specialist.

“Plenette gives us that inside presence. [She’s] a banger,” said Liberty head coach Anne Donovan. “Someone who’s just tough and tough-nosed and kind of fits the blue collar image that we’re trying to live up to.”

“It’s not an easy task,” laughed Pierson when commended for her ability to battle in the paint. “Coach Donovan told me when I first came in that she needed me to be aggressive and go to the rebound. We’ve got great scorers on this team, but I don’t need to score, and that’s fine by me. If she wants me to rebound in particular games and that’s what I need to do, then I do it.”

Pierson’s attitude more or less stands as the team’s unofficial motto: Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do. The team’s current three-game win streak ties the season’s best heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Fever. At a time when team chemistry becomes the anchor of success, it would appear as if the Liberty has found itself at just the right time.

When asked if the Liberty were playing like a playoff team, Pondexter was quick to reply.

“Definitely,” she said with a smirk. “You can’t tell?”