The New York Liberty fell to the Connecticut Sun in their season opener, but Bill Laimbeer's short-handed squad already looks improved from last season.
Even without key post pieces Plenette Pierson and Cheryl Ford, the Liberty started the game with strong efforts on both ends of the floor. After a 42-40 halftime advantage they suffered a lapse mid-third quarter and never recovered; committing 16 turnovers and losing the rebounding battle -5 didn't help. Despite a double digit loss, here are some encouraging signs I saw from the Liberty's opener:
- Rookies Kamiko Williams and Kelsey Bone really stood out with their efforts. Williams (6 points, 4 assists) impressed with 23 minutes of solid effort on the defensive end, applying good perimeter pressure with her 5-11 frame. You also like her ability to effectively handle the ball and create, which can put Cappie Pondexter off the ball as a luxury. Bone (10 points, 8 rebounds) finished 5-12 from the field but showed adamance on the glass and ran the floor with purpose. She also showed inspiring effort on several possessions against reigning league MVP Tina Charles, who finished with 19 points on 7-21 shooting.
- The Liberty offense is still developing under Laimbeer's system, but already has more fluid options than last season's model. I saw some triangle offense sets and two-woman game action with the bigs working hand-offs with Pondexter and Carson, along with necessary weak side action. For a club that struggled to score last season (73 points per game) these are pleasing facets.
- Cappie Pondexter (23 points, 8-21 FG) is still a superstar. Scoring 16 points in the first half and sparking a run that brought the Liberty within four in the final quarter was no different than what we've seen through her career. Expect an MVP-caliber season from Pondexter.
- Kate Smith (3 points) only played 16 minutes but her veteran presence is invaluable; able to play the stretch four, create match up problems, and guard bigger opponents. Her contributions will transcend the stat sheet.
- Even though Essence Carson (14 points, 8 rebounds) shot just 4-10 from the field, her aggression was noted. Look for the 2011 all star to particularly emerge under Laimbeer with more confidence and another all standout season.
- When this team is at full strength (Pierson, Ford) they should become a considerable force.