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New York Liberty win thriller at home behind rookie’s perfect game (Highlights)

Behind a perfect game from rookie Marine Johannes (17 points, 6-for-6 shooting), the New York Liberty stole one from the Los Angeles Sparks.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Normally, the initials “MJ” inspire fear across the New York basketball landscape.

Marine Johannes might be starting to change that narrative.

The French rookie scored 17 points on a perfect 6-of-6 performance from the field in an 83-78 New York Liberty win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday at Westchester County Center. The Liberty (8-10) ended a three-game losing streak with the weekend win.

Johannes, 24, was playing in just her third WNBA game. She had spent most of her 2019 season in her homeland and recently played alongside New York teammate Bria Hartley with the French national squad at the FIBA EuroBasket Women competition. She has averaged 11.3 points in her first WNBA trio. Saturday’s display was her most promising display yet. Her flawless shooting showing included a quartet from three-point range. Half of them were buzzer-beaters that ended the middle quarters.

Johannes also sank her lone free throw attempt of the afternoon, earned via a technical foul on Los Angeles head coach Derek Fisher.

Tounge firmly in cheek, Liberty head coach Katie Smith labeled the performance “not bad”.

“She’s a scorer. That’s not going to be an every night thing but she’s able to hit shots. She’s a bounce player. She’s a solid pick and roll guard,” Smith analyzed. “She’s someone that can stretch the floor and (opponents) have to play her honest.”

Johannes continues to adjust to her new American settings, but has already worked her way into the tight-knit Liberty culture. As local reporters surrounded her locker, her neighbor Rebecca Allen helped simplify questions for Johannes, as English is a second language to her. White Plains erupted in loud cheers when she took the court for the first time.

“It’s really nice. I like the atmosphere here,” she said. “I’m feeling good. I’m happy to be here.”

Kia Nurse, she of 14 points on Saturday, perhaps had the most glowing praise.

“She’s a scorer, she’s got a swagger to her game that’s a little bit different,” the 2019 WNBA All-Star said. “She brings a European swagger to a North American game that’s a lot of fun to watch. She is confident and I love the way that she plays.”

Johannes’ first points came in the final part of a 7-0 Liberty run to end the first quarter. They would expand the run to a dozen unanswered points to take a 24-12 lead early in the second frame before Los Angeles stabilized matters. Though the Sparks (10-8) literally came as close as they could (trimming the lead to one point on several occasions), the Liberty did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.

New York built their lasting lead in the early stages despite Tina Charles and Amanda Zahui B.sitting on the bench after each picking up two early fouls. They were spelled by a stellar player from their understudies.

Reshanda Gray earned 10 points and eight rebounds. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe tied a season-best with eight points. Brittany Boyd came off the bench for the first time this season (Tanisha Wright started in her place) but contributed six assists and five rebounds.

“I’m really pleased folks stepped up when their number was called. We continued to play hard throughout the whole game,” Smith said. “We really do have a deep team. I thought (Brittany) Boyd had some really good minutes, I thought she put some pressure on the team. I thought Marine, (Allen), Nayo, and Gray gave us minutes.”

Nneka Ogwumike paced Los Angeles in double-double fashion with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The Sparks had entered Westchester as winners of six of their past seven and their ensuing loss snapped an active three-game winning streak. New York took two of three meetings from Los Angeles this season, also winning on June 15 at Staples Center.

The Liberty smashed through a proverbial landmark with their eighth win of the season, besting their franchise-worst mark of 7-27 from last year. The players, however, are convinced there’s more to come and insist their work is nowhere near complete.

“We’re nowhere where we want to be, nowhere where we need to be,” Boyd said. “This year’s a new team. I don’t think we celebrate eight wins. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

New York ends Saturday a game and a half behind Phoenix for the final WNBA playoff spot. An opportunity to go into the Las Vegas-based All-Star break looms large on Wednesday. The Liberty’s final tilt prior to the stoppage comes against the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville (11:30 a.m. ET, WNBA League Pass).

“Even with everyone coming and going, they’ve approached everything as professionals. We still need to get better,” Smith said. “I just think they’ve had the right mindset every day in practice. They’ve been positive, ready for work … you want to see that rewarded.”

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