Behind a monster third quarter from Kia Nurse, the New York Liberty christened their new home with a win over the Chinese national squad.
Tune in to ESPNEWS to watch them live ? pic.twitter.com/WD7ZbBZKJd
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 9, 2019
Thursday night was anything but an exhibition for the New York Liberty. Sure, the ensuing victory won’t count toward the WNBA standings. From a personal standpoint, though, it’s the sweetest victory in quite some time.
Kia Nurse and Han Xu each tallied 19 points in their Brooklyn debuts. Their second-half emergence led to an 89-71 victory for New York in their Barclays Center opener. The victim was China’s national squad, the 19-year-old Han’s former comrades.
Liberty frustration was present on and off the court in 2018. As rumors of a sale swirled over the team’s head, they were evicted from Madison Square Garden, save for a pair of summer matinees. On the court, the team struggled to the tune of a franchise-worst 7-27 standing.
Thursday’s Brooklyn showcase was the start of a new era. The team spent the day at the new arena, gathering for an early morning shootaround. The next generation took the court shortly after in a youth clinic that saw New York basketball legends Teresa Weatherspoon and Stephon Marbury serve as instructors.
After their own workout, the Liberty had a conversation with new team owner Joseph Tsai. The Taiwan-born billionaire is also the minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center’s primary tenant.
“It’s been a great day,’ head coach Katie Smith recounted. “From the first time they purchased the team, it’s been supportive excitement. They’ve been energized and excited about being a part of it and helping us build something. It’s been a great feeling to start with that foundation.”
Thursday marked the first time Smith had met Tsai. After the initial meeting, she’s more enthusiastic than ever about the future.
“It means a lot to be here. It means a lot to have the support. We’re looking forward to this partnership and we’re really lucky to have them.”
The perfect end to a perfect day in New York women’s sports came courtesy of the main attractions.
Trailing 42-36 at the half, the Liberty embarked on a 16-6 run to open the third quarter that gave the the lead permanently. Leading the charge was Nurse, who scored 15 points in the third frame alone.
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 10, 2019
Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the Liberty accomplished most of their second-half damage with Tina Charles on the bench. She was removed after she picked up her fifth foul midway through the third quarter and did not return.
Han had her covered.
The Liberty’s second-round pick scored 11 points in the latter half, earning several baskets thanks to lobs to the inside from her teammates. New York outscored China in the paint by a 46-22 margin.
“I like our team. The needs that we needed, we went out and found people,” Smith said of her team’s depth. “I thought everybody was aggressive and at the end of the day, we need Tina to keep being Tina and everyone else to keep being themselves. But I thought our team and what we’ve put together has given us a lot of options and I think our draft picks have been exceptional so far.”
Charles did wind up contributing to the win, scoring 13 points before her departure.
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 10, 2019
It was an emotional day for Han, the first Chinese-born player drafted in the WNBA since 1997. She won the first Liberty tip-off in Barclays Center history and also scored the opening points. Each of her baskets was greeted with unanimous cheers from the crowd, which was well-represented on both sides.
She had a heartfelt conversation with her former coach, Chinese boss Xu Limin, after the game. However, she conveyed her appreciation to her new squad after the victory.
“I definitely have a lot of fun playing basketball with them,” Han said of her new teammates through translator Hannah Rothkuo. “It’s been such a cool experience and they’ve all been so supportive and so helpful to any of the questions that I have.”
A majority of 2019 home games remain at Westchester County Center, but the Liberty will return to Brooklyn on August 11 to take on the Seattle Storm. Their regular-season opener lands on May 24 against Indiana at WCC.