2005-09-02 / Sports

New York Liberty Get Burned by Fever

By John Buro

New York Liberty’s Becky Hammon (25) passes around Indiana Fever’s Natalie Williams during a game that occurred earlier this year. (AP Photo/John Harrell)
New York Liberty’s Becky Hammon (25) passes around Indiana Fever’s Natalie Williams during a game that occurred earlier this year. (AP Photo/John Harrell) The losing streak is at four and, if it reaches five, the New York Liberty season will end. In fact, if they cannot win both Games 2 and 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana, any hope of winning that elusive championship will have to wait until next year.

Two must-win games were borne from Tuesday night’s disappointing 63-51 loss to the Indiana Fever, which was played before a sparse Madison Square Garden throng of 7,729.

The attendance figure, itself, was a very ominous sign. In the Liberty’s biggest game to date, they drew their smallest crowd, or approximately 2,000 less fans than they would on an average night.

Perhaps, on the surface , the U.S. Open, played in Flushing Meadows, and the Mets’ pursuit of the playoffs against the wild-card leading Philadelphia Phillies at neighboring Shea Stadium, appeared to be hotter tickets. It isn’t any secret that, while the Liberty may be one of the crown jewels of the WNBA, they are often regarded as a second-class citizen –although past performance indicates they are clearly the better of the three franchises who entertain in this building.

Indiana 63, New York 51, wasn’t the blowout a 12-point deficit would indicate. Both teams were 18-46 from the field [39.1%], and only a substantial difference in late-game free throw shooting [overall, the Fever outscored the Liberty, 21-12, from the line] proved to be much of the difference.

After rallying from nine behind to gain a 27-all tie in first half, Indiana, on the strength of a 16-6 to open the second half, raced to a 43-33 lead. By this point, Tamika Catchings, the Fever’s star forward, was having her way with New York’s passive interior defense. Catchings, who had averaged a mere 8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 3.5 apg in four regular-season games, had already tallied a double-double [13 points, 10 rebounds]. She would finish with 19 and 12 and received unlikely support from Tully Bevilaqua, who chipped in with nine points of her 14 points.

“Tully is a very, very good player,” said Indiana Head Coach Brian Winters. “She has the ability to make big plays at big times. She has done that all year for us, whether it’s drawing a charge or hitting a 3-point shot. Nothing that she does on the court surprises me.”

Still, the Liberty would not go away, and when Elena Baranova nailed a 3-pointer from straightaway, they were able to forge a tie at 49 with 3:21 remaining in regulation.

With overtime looming, Indiana erupted on a 14-2 to close out the game. Bevilaqua, who had spent as much of the game horizontally as she did vertically, produced the game’s most dramatic moment. With the 30-second shot clock set to implode, the Australian guard hit a huge 3-pointer...as she, again, fell to the hardwood floor. The bucket capped a 7-0 spurt, increasing the score to 56-49. The Fever, then, concluded matters by hitting seven of eight free from the charity stripe to insure their one game-to-none margin.

Vickie Johnson, who has played the most postseason games in league history, led the Liberty with 17 points. Becky Hammon finished with nine, but was scoreless over the final twenty minutes; when she fouled out in the game’s closing seconds, her scoring line, which included five turnovers and just one assist, was complete.

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