New York Liberty
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2018 season, almost all too appropriately, ended with another valiant effort gone for naught for the New York Liberty.

The New York Liberty ended their season with eight players on the active roster and countless strong efforts. Unfortunately for one of the league’s charter franchises, they also ended it with only seven wins.

The Liberty’s 2018 season concluded on Sunday night, sent to their 13th consecutive loss by the playoff-bound Phoenix Mercury, as a double-double from DeWanna Bonner (23 points, 10 rebounds) and a career-high 18 points from Stephanie Talbot each played a big part in a 96-85 final at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“For us it has been, honestly, the last stretch has been about playing hard,” head coach Katie Smith said. “We’ve played harder for 40 minutes, and we didn’t do that all year, that is not going to win a lot of games especially when we don’t have people who can put the ball in the hole as easily as Phoenix and some of these other teams. We just didn’t play hard enough or consistently enough throughout the season and dug ourselves a hole.”

Ending the season with their 13th consecutive loss, the Liberty (7-27) were paced by rookie Kia Nurse, who put up 28 points in defeat.

“This league is too good, but we also need to find more scoring on a consistent basis night in and night out,” Smith said, before praising the year-end efforts. “I am really impressed with the way we finished the year even though we aren’t in the playoffs I thought they really battled.”

3rd Star: Rebecca Allen

With the Liberty’s season in the books, Victoria native Allen will be a contender to join the Australian national team, the Opals, who are set to compete at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup next month. She put on a good showing in front of national team and Mercury coach Sandy Brondello, tallying 15 points and two steals.

“I just want to keep working on my defense, that’s something I did last year,” Allen said about what she plans to improve on from this season. “I want to keep working on my offensive game instead of just being a spot-up shooter, all those sorts of things.”

2nd Star: Kiah Stokes

Stokes saw her playing time increase late in the season, as the Liberty apparently lost their interior prescience with the injuries to Amanda Zahui B. (hip) and Kia Vaughn (quad). Taking advantage of increased playing time, however, Stokes patrolled the paint with reckless abandon, averaging 9.5 rebounds over her final six games. She concluded the season one board short of a double-double, picking up 12 points in the process.

1st Star: Kia Nurse

The Liberty’s rookie and their biggest sense of future optimism gave a potential glimpse of what’s to come, putting the team on her back in the final stages of the season. In the finale, Nurse played all 40 minutes and led the team with 28 points, six short of her career-high set back in June. She also developed a feisty interior prescience, wrestling away seven rebounds from Phoenix defenders.

“I think for me personally it’s how do I get better as a basketball player, what do I take from my rookie year, what did I learn, what can I get better at, what can I continue to do to create strength in my game and then how can we as a team become better,” Nurse said to wrap up her rookie season. “I think that’s something you have to take care of on your own, it is big responsibility throughout the offseason as we go our separate ways.”

How It Was Decided

As they did so often in the late stages of the season, the Liberty spent a majority of the game keeping pace with a team that needed a win to keep pace in playoff positioning. Phoenix (20-14) already had their spot locked up, but a win would allow them to not only clinch the fifth seed, but would allow them to avoid the top-ranked Seattle Storm until the WNBA Finals.

Keeping the score tied after the first quarter and nursing a three-point deficit at the break, the Liberty again allowed points in bunches in the second half, burning another strong effort. Phoenix won the third frame by a 29-13 final, and while the Liberty managed to create a respectable score by winning the fourth 26-18, it wasn’t enough to prevent another loss.

The Mercury, seeking their fourth WNBA title, will face the Dallas Wings in the single-game first round when the playoffs open up on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Game Notes

  • In addition to Vaughn and Zahui B., Shavonte Zellous (ankle) and Epiphanny Prince (knee) each did not dress due to injuries.
  • Bria Hartley, who hurt her nose during Friday night’s game in Seattle, wore a protective mask as a precaution.
  • Liberty All-Star Tina Charles struggled in what could’ve been her final game in a New York uniform, scoring seven points on 2-for-10 shooting. Asked about her impending free agent status, franchise tagged prior to this season, Charles sounded optimistic after the team’s home finale against Atlanta last week. “I never take it for granted. Playing for the New York Liberty is an honor,” Charles said. “I hold this jersey and organization near and dear to my heart. I always just try and seize the moment.”
  • The Liberty will enter the 2019 WNBA Draft lottery with the fourth-best odds, a 10.4 percent chance of landing the top pick. WNBA lottery odds factor in records from the previous two seasons. They’ll slide in behind Indiana (44.2 percent), Las Vegas (27.6 percent), and Chicago (17.8 percent).

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