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New York Liberty finally earn a win behind team effort (Highlights)

Tina Charles (21 points) once again led the New York Liberty in scoring, but a team effort gave them their first win in 17 tries.

Geoff Magliocchetti

The New York Liberty’s nightmare is over, if only temporarily.

Tina Charles led the team with 21 points to go with 17 from Bria Hartley. With plenty of Liberty alumni on the other side, New York earned an 88-78 win over the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday afternoon at Westchester County Center. It’s their first win since a 107-84 decision over Chicago on July 15 of last year. The victory snaps a 17-game losing streak dating back to last season, tied for the third-longest in WNBA history.

“It was the effort from start to finish for 40 minutes,” head coach Katie Smith said. “Everybody was locked down. The bench was flying in. From start to finish, I think, for me, our crew, was one of the best energy, best execution, one of the best teams that I have had.”

Smith earned her first win over former Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer. The former NBA star was also Smith’s coach when she played in both Detroit and New York. They earned two WNBA titles together. The Aces also feature former New Yorkers Sugar Rodgers and Carolyn Swords in their lineup, as well as former leading scorer Vickie Johnson as an assistant coach.

Rodgers returned to New York for the first time since an April trade sent her to Las Vegas. The Liberty’s yield from that deal was the return of Tanisha Wright, who came up big on Sunday.

A Brooklyn native, Wright spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Liberty before the trade brought her back. She had played just 15 minutes and earned no points over the first four games of the season, missing the last two entirely due to coach’s decision.

But Wright came up big when rookie Asia Durr was forced to sit out with an illness. She would earn eight points, four rebounds, and four assists in building and preserving the Liberty lead.

“I thought throughout the game we played with a level of energy and focus that sustained us. The first couple of games, we’d start with that, but we’d fall off, let teams back in,” Wright said. “I thought today we did a really good job of playing at a high level.”

Wright wasn’t the only player to rise off the bench for the Liberty (1-4). Reshanda Gray put up another strong effort in earning eight rebounds and two steals. Gray also combined with Amanda Zahui B.(nine points, five rebounds, five blocks) to shut down a fearsome Las Vegas interior headed by Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson. The Aces’ pair was forced into a combined 7-for-24 shooting.

Cambage did earn a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds), but it was a drastic improvement from her last meeting with the Liberty. She tallied a WNBA-record 53 points last summer as a member of the Dallas Wings.

“I thought today everybody played pretty smart defense,” Smith said. “We had to do our work early, not only individually, but as a unit. Clog whenever, get hands on rebounds.”

“I thought our bigs, Zahui, Tina, Gray, all did a great job of making them earn shots.”

New York led by as much as 16. Las Vegas (2-3) threatened in the second half, trimming the lead down to four. But the Liberty staved off the pesky Aces with a strong fundamental effort. The Aces shot 35 percent from the field (28-for-79) and forced just nine turnovers. Smith was impressed with the latter stat.

“Our goal is 13 turnovers. We can’t have possessions off,” She said. “We can’t allow those. We’ll keep harping on it, but today was a good day. It helped us get this win.”

With Durr out, Hartley was inserted in the lineup to make her first start of the season. She earned double-figures for the second straight game. Her 17 points were accompanied by six rebounds and six assists. Those are season-highs in each category for the veteran guard.

“I think, in other games, I was being a little passive,” Hartley said. “But when I’m actively being aggressive, it helps me create for others even more. It makes a defense play me more honest.”

Hartley is set to leave New York to partake in the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket competition in Serbia and Latvia for France. Zahui B is likewise set to appear for Sweden.

Hartley is confident her team can keep it up in her absence.

“I think the first (win’s) the hardest one. Now that we got it, everyone sees what we can do and what we’re capable of,” she said. “Now we just have to keep building on it.”

No Liberty win would be complete without heroics from Charles. She’d deliver with seven fourth-quarter points that put the Aces away. After the game, she immediately hugged her father Rawlston, who was seated courtside.

“We didn’t want to be the team where the opponent says ‘hey, they’ll let us back in the game’,” Charles said. “I’m happy we weren’t able to let them back in the game. That has a great deal to do with the job Wright, Gray and Zahui B did.”

The Liberty have a chance to build momentum on Wednesday night, as they welcome in the Minnesota Lynx (7:00 p.m., YES). The team is obviously pleased with a big win, but won’t let the potentially fleeting success go their heads.

“We know this means nothing,” Smith said. “You better lace them up, get your shorts on, get ready to roll on Wednesday because you got to do it all over again. Nothing is accumulation. You better show up and be locked in again.”

“The big takeaway from this is to enjoy the feeling but understand we got Minnesota coming up, coming right back,” Gray added. “We just got to channel that same energy and be better. (Today) wasn’t perfect. There’s always room to be better.”

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