Sun celebrates awards early, has to hold on late, to take game one of Eastern Conference semifinals
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The day at Mohegan Sun started with three awards and a special announcement. Pregame, the league honored Tina Charles with the 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player award, Kara Lawson the Kim Perrot Sporsmanship award, and Renee Montgomery the Sixth Woman of the Year award. The league also revealed the location of the 2013 All Star Game: Mohegan Sun, July 27, 2013.
When the Sun and New York Liberty took the court, the Sun’s good mood soured.
Despite shooting only 26 percent from the field, the Liberty won the battle on the glass, and fought top-seeded Connecticut until the end, finally falling to the Sun, 65-60.
New York outrebounded Connecticut 44 to 39 for the game, and 17 of those were offensive rebounds, four each by Plenette Pierson and Kia Vaughn, and three by Kara Braxton. Unfortunately, those three also combined to make only 10-of-30 shots as they either missed or passed on points in the point. With all those offensive rebounds, the Liberty were outscored in the paint by the Sun 24 to 20. For Connecticut, Charles, the leading rebounder in the league this past season, was held to three for the game.
The difference maker for Connecticut may well have been the returning Asjha Jones, who played almost 29 minutes for the first time since her injury prior to the Olympic break. Statistically, she contributed 10 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, but even more important her presence allows Charles to get some rest. The post rotation of Charles, Jones, and Mistie Mims combined for 33 points and 19 rebounds, crucial when Kara Lawson was effectively shut down by the Liberty defense.
Lawson joked that her long standing relationship with her Sacramento coach John Whisenant, now the head coach of the Liberty, did not help her at all.
“He (Whisenant) was sure not letting me try to have free looks,” she laughed. “Every time I came off screens there were two players there. That’s their game plan, when I’m coming off screens they are going to stay with me, and not allow me to turn the corner. So it will be about me making the right play, and we had a bunch of great looks in the second half that rimmed out, we’re going to have to knock those down. It was definitely a struggle for me, but I have to play better next game.”
Another person that took the game personally was Liberty star guard Cappie Pondexter, who hit ony 3-of-16 shots, and blamed herself for the loss.
“I think this might have been the worst playoff game I ever played.” Pondexter said, while shaking her head at the statistics. “I wasn’t smart at all. I didn’t play smart basketball at all. I didn’t give us a chance to at least be close in the game in the 4th quarter. I kind of blame myself. I definitely have to be smarter in game two.”
As they move to the Prudential Center in New Jersey for game two Saturday night, Sun coach Mike Thibault knows his team will have to do better next game.
“This group has never won a playoff game, so well take the win,” he said. “It’s exciting for them but well have to play a lot better on Saturday to win there. Happy with most of our effort, but if we let a team get 17 offensive rebounds, it’s a problem.”
As for the Liberty, Pondexter is confident they will be ready to defeat the top-seeded Sun.
“This team has been tough to beat all year but I’m still optimistic that we can win and bring it back to game three.”