On Tuesday afternoon, Liz Cambage scored more points in a WNBA game than any player in league history, as her 53 points led the Dallas Wings to a 104-87 win over the visiting New York Liberty.
So how did the 6-foot-8 center from Australia put together the greatest scoring performance in 22 years of WNBA basketball? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and the video to break it all down.
While the number 53 gets the most attention for being the new scoring mark for all others to chase, don’t overlook the fact that Cambage needed only 22 shots to score those 53 points.
Her level of efficiency on Tuesday was remarkable, as she shot 17-of-22 (77.3%) from the field, including 4-of-5 (80%) from 3-point range, and missed just one free throw in 16 attempts (93.8%).
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 17, 2018
There has been only one NBA performance in the last 35 years that saw a player score at least 53 points on fewer than 23 field goal attempts – Willie Burton had 53 points on 12-19 FG, 5-8 3FG and 24-28 FT in 43 minutes for Philadelphia back in Dec. 1994.
Cambage maximized her 37 minutes on the court – scoring 1.43 points per minute – while adding 10 rebounds, five blocks and two assists as she dominated play on both ends of the court.
I don't usually get a lot into NBA/WNBA comparisons, but re: @ecambage's 53-point, 10-rebound, 5-block game today: There have been three 50-10-5 games in NBA in last *35* years, most recently by Pelicans' Anthony Davis (53/17/5) in Feb. vs. Suns. He played 39 minutes, Liz 37.
— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) July 17, 2018
We are forced to make NBA/WNBA comparisons here because Cambage reached a scoring mark that has no WNBA comps. Even looking at the NBA, it is tough to find comps for the combination of scoring and efficiency that Cambage put together on Tuesday.
Cambage’s record-breaking performance was far from a dominant post player merely overpowering her competition underneath the basket. Cambage showcased a wide array of skills in putting together her 53-point masterpiece.
1. Post-ups On The Block
Whether the Liberty tried to defend her one-on-one or sent a double-team to try to contain Cambage, there was no stopping her when she got strong post position on the block.
“To me she’s the most dominant player that we’ve seen in this league,” teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith said of Cambage the day after her record-breaking game. “She is one of the easiest players to play with; she’s literally a chick-magnet in there as far as her being able to attract two and three defenders. She’s made it a lot easier for me to play on the floor and for me to play my game.
“Her ability to score in all three facets [of the game] as far as back to the basket, face-up game and now adding a 3-point shot to her game; like she said before this is something that she’s been doing in her time outside of the league, and so to have somebody of her caliber on our team now … I’m happy she’s on my team.”
The chemistry between Cambage and Diggins-Smith continues to grow with each passing game that the All-Stars spend as teammates. Here they work the high pick-and-roll to perfection, with Diggins-Smith dropping a pass to a rolling Cambage for a layup and one of Diggins-Smith’s game-high seven assists.
3. Facing Up
Here is another example of the strong two-woman game from Diggins-Smith and Cambage. The two are isolated on the left side of the court with Diggins-Smith initiating the offense with a pass into Cambage at the elbow. Diggins-Smith then cuts off of Cambage to see if she can beat her defender for a layup. When the defender stays with her, she flares out to the left corner to open up the lane for Cambage, who is now isolated one-on-one with her defender at the elbow. Cambage sweeps through from right to left and beats her defender off the dribble, as she drives down the lane before going up for the layup and drawing contact for the and-one.
4. Spot-Up Jumpers
In addition to having the size and strength to punish defenders down low and the mobility to drive past defenders from the perimeter, Cambage can also knock down jumpers from mid-range and beyond when defenses leave her unguarded.
Here is an example of the Wings using great ball movement to force the Liberty defense to scramble before Cambage ends up with a wide-open jumper from 15 feet. Diggins-Smith starts the action by receiving the ball from Cayla George on the right wing and driving middle off a screen by George. When the Liberty double her at the top of the key, she passes back to George on the right wing, forcing the Liberty defenders to rotate across the key and leaving Cambage wide-open at the left elbow. George hits her with a pass and Cambage nails the spot-up jumper.
5. Isolation Drives
Not only was Cambage able to hit jumpers from the perimeter on pick-and-pops and spot-ups, but she also showed off her ability to put the ball on the floor and create her own shot. Here she catches the ball at the top of the key and has a mismatch with Bria Hartley picking her up on defense. Despite having a full one-foot height advantage over the Liberty guard, Cambage does not back her down into the paint as a traditional big might try. Instead she drives left, spins back into the paint and puts up a floater that drops for another of her 17 buckets on the night.
6. Expanding Her Game Beyond the 3-Point Line
The field goal percentage leaderboards are filled with post players that do much of their damage on high-percentage shots inside the paint. This includes Cambage, who ranks fourth in the league on the season (58.7%). Tuesday’s 17-22 (77.3%) shooting display was her third-highest mark of the year and fourth game above 70 percent. While shooting a great percentage didn’t come as a surprise, draining 4-of-5 from beyond the arc certainly did.
“I think everyone needs to be versatile to better their game,” said Cambage on Wednesday. “I think guards need to be able to have a post up in their game when mismatches happen and I think post players need to have an outside game, and that’s something I’ve always worked on. The more I’m working on it, the more confident I’m getting with it at the moment.”
Prior to Tuesday, Cambage had made only five of 23 attempts from beyond the arc in her WNBA career. But when you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. Cambage was in full NBA Jam (“she’s on fire!”) mode as she left the nets at College Park Center ablaze, capping off her record-setting night with an open 3-pointer from the top of the key in the game’s final minute.
Cambage has had a unique WNBA career, as she was drafted second overall back in 2011 by the then-Tulsa Shock. After playing her rookie year in Tulsa, she sat out the 2012 season to focus on playing for the Australian national team in the Olympics and chose not to return for the remainder of the season following the Games. She was back in 2013, appearing in 20 games as the Shock struggled to a league-worst 11-23 record. Cambage chose not to return to the WNBA following the 2013 campaign, as she continued her professional career playing in Australia and China.
But nearly five years after the final game of 2013, Cambage agreed to terms on a contract to return to the WNBA with the now-Dallas Wings (the same franchise that drafted her, just with a new name and location). Cambage was officially named a WNBA All-Star for the second time just hours after her record-breaking performance, but the votes had already been cast before her game with New York tipped off. She was already a top 10 player in scoring, rebounding and blocks, being every bit the indomitable force that the Wings hoped for when they brought her back.
After her historic performance, Cambage spoke with Alexa Shaw of Fox Sports Southwest and was asked what the record meant to her. Cambage’s answer was eye-opening:
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 17, 2018
Fueled by naysayers on various social media channels, Cambage treated Tuesday as a mic-drop moment, a chance for her to say “now what?!” to anyone that had ever doubted her ability to shine in the top women’s basketball league in the world.
“The past season when I was back home [in Australia] during summer I think I had a couple of 40-point games, and people on Twitter and people on Instagram were saying, ‘Oh she’ll never play games like that in America; she can do that here but she’ll never be able to do that in America,'” Cambage said. “And you know, I guess I did. It’s just funny how people talk so much and I just let my game speak for itself.”
Cambage left no doubt about where she stands in the current landscape of the game. And on Tuesday night, she etched her name into the record books to show she has the ability to be one of the best to ever do it.