Guest Post by Abacus Reveals
Bill Laimbeer was right about one thing.
He’d acknowledged that if his crew couldn’t figure out a way to get some “stops,” their modus operandi offensively wouldn’t matter much anyway.
Ironically, the words of the former Motor City Bad Boy and three-time title-winning coach were being shared with the world – right there in the upper corner of your TV screen, recorded only moments before during an in-game, between-quarters Q & A – at the precise moment that this opponent was launching a stretch of four consecutive conversions that took a six-point up to a non-refundable margin of 14 … all in a mere 103 seconds.
And although nearly six minutes remained on the clock in this ultimate game of the WNBA’s Eastern Conference Final …
Even though Laimbeer’s top overall seed was enjoying the home-court advantage it had earned and receiving the rowdy support of over 10,000 fanatics, Spike Lee amongst them …
Despite the benefit of a Big Apple blessing from the Times’ renowned Bill Rhoden two days prior on ESPN’s Sports Reporters …
… it was over. The Game. The Series. The New York Liberty’s glorious season … “Melting, melting!”
And the “Dorothy” who induced this “liquidation” is a first-year head coach. (That’s got to put a smile onto the face of a good many of Bruisin’ Bill’s old rivals, especially the “High” Chief.)
But it was the oft-crowned Notre Dame-groomed New York Liberty head man who violated one of the most basic precepts of winning basketball. In a most fundamental aspect of today’s game, not only did Coach Bill alter his team’s style of play – he decided to play to the other team’s strength.
New Yorkers have not known a professional basketball championship in over 40 years … Laimbeer had his ladies playing a brand of ball from out of that era – quite successfully, let’s note. (Until the season’s meaningless final week, the Libs had lost back-to-back but once this summer.)
Specifically, New York played as if those stripes on the floor about 22’ from the goal were untended-to stains rather than a strategic component to the competition. By percentage, the Liberty were the third-worst three-point shooters (.309) and second-worst three-point defenders (.346). They both made and attempted the fewest treys (3.86 for 12.18, per game), their opponents the most (5.71 for 16.5).
No, Laimbeer’s Libs, much like his old Piston squads, were not goint to beat you with finesse or gimmicks. They were No. 1 in FG defense (.393); they were tops in the league in preventing opponent second shots (.191), third-best in retrieving their own misses (.267). The 40-point differential between their own rate of converting possessions and that of their opposition (.472 - .432) topped the “W.” They’d even fine-tuned their offensive productivity to where they were the second-best FG-shooting team (.446) over the second half of the season.
Then, in a span of less than 30 hours and WHILE WINNING TWO PLAYOFF GAMES, the WNBA’s Coach of the Year precipitated the premature end of his team’s season.
Tina Charles and Co. found themselves in a do-or-die Game Three on a fateful Tuesday evening after dropping their playoff opener in double-OT to the gritty Washington Mystics and then grinding out a methodical 18-point road win. (NY won the conversion battle that night .553 to .419; they were three for eight on treys.)
New York’s advance to Round 2 that night was procured through some rather uncharacteristic long-range bombing – seven for 14 from deep despite shooting under 40% overall. It was the first game all season they’d reached the 50%-plateau for threes. The bench duo of veteran Candice Wiggins (4-4) and young Sugar Rodgers (2-5, not to mention a perfect 10 from the foul line) did the heavy lifting.
In an odd bit of scheduling, the Eastern Conference Final kicked off the very next night in the very same building. A prohibitive favorite over the 20-14 and fourth-seeded Fever, the Libs kinda resumed the game they’d just been playing, dropping eight of 14 three-pointers in a box-to-wire 84-67 victory.
The Fever brought their flat play with them back to the Midwest for the first half of Game 2, falling behind 44-29 at the intermission. It was then that New York’s philosophical flip-flop got costly. In the third quarter, Laimbeer’s ladies converted just four of sixteen possessions while bricking four of five treys.
Although Indiana had whittled but four points from the halftime margin, New York’s shoddy execution had ignited some optimism in a home crowd that has seen its team reach the mountaintop in recent times (2012). Fittingly, the Fever forged its first lead of the series and then cushioned it with back-to-back three-pointers from Shenise Johnson and Marisa Coleman. The Libs misfired on three of four more long bombs, ending the evening 3-14.
That sent the affair back to Gotham for Tuesday’s showdown, in which the out-of-sync Liberty produced 42 missed shots, 21 turnovers and a measly 51 points. Fade to Black, season!
The most incomprehensible slice to coach’s humble pie is the opposition against whom he chose to implement this tactical change. The Mystics ranked second in three-point shooting (.344) and third in defending the three (.309). And Big Bill was really tugging on Superman’s cape with Stephanie White’s Fever, who topped the league’s rankings on both sides of “Three-ficiency.”
Was it arrogance – “I can beat ‘em at their own game”?
Did he panic? He did seem to be searching all up and down his bench for an answer, while his novice adversary was holding to the tried-and-true by tightening her playing rotation and dancin’ with the thems that brung her.
Maybe he just ran into his old Celtic sparring partner who was in the mood to share.
Oops Upside Yo’ Head, indeed.
For the NBA’s 2014-15 season, seven teams finished in the Top Ten in both shooting and defending the three-point shot – all qualified for the playoffs, including three of the four conference finalists.
The 12-team WNBA’s proportional equivalent (upper third) is a Top Four finish. The Fever (tops on both scales) and Mystics currently reside in this neighborhood.
We’ll rank the teams by the difference between their own three-point shooting and that of the opposition. (Attempts and makes are presented “per-game” for ease of comparison.)
No. 1 Indiana Fever [+59]
[12-week rating: 1
10-week rating: 1
ASB rating: 1
6-week rating: 1
4-week rating: 3
2-week rating: 7]
.360 [1st] – 5.35 [4th] out of 14.88 [3rd]
.301 [1st] – 4.5 [3rd] out of 14.97 [6th]
No. 2 Washington Mystics [+35]
[12-week rating: 2
10-week rating: 2
ASB rating: 2
6-week rating: 3
4-week rating: 4
2-week rating: 4]
.344 [2nd] – 5.97 [3rd] out of 17.35 [3rd]
.309 [3rd] – 4 [2nd] out of 12.94 [2nd]
No. 3 Minnesota Lynx [+22]
[12-week rating: 3
10-week rating: 4
ASB rating: 2
6-week rating: 4
4-week rating: 5
2-week rating: 5]
.333 [4th] – 4.09 [10th] out of 12.29 [11th]
.311 [4th] – 5.09 [8th] out of 16.35 [11th]
No. 4 Seattle Storm [+8]
[12-week rating: 5
10-week rating: 6
ASB rating: 6
6-week rating: 7
4-week rating: 7
2-week rating: 6]
.323 [8th] – 4.68 [6th] out of 14.5 [6th]
.315 [5th] – 5.12 [9th] out of 16.24 [10th]
No. 5 Phoenix Mercury [+7]
[12-week rating: 6
10-week rating: 5
ASB rating: 5
6-week rating: 6
4-week rating: 1
2-week rating: 3]
.324 [7th] – 4.62 [7th] out of 14.26 [8th]
.317 [6th] – 4.82 [7th] out of 15.21 [8th]
No. 6 Atlanta Dream [-7]
[12-week rating: 8
10-week rating: 10
ASB rating: 8
6-week rating: 8
4-week rating: 12
2-week rating: 9]
.320 [9th] – 4.88 [5th] out of 15.26 [4th]
.327 [8th] – 5.24 [11th] out of 16 [9th]
No. 7 Tulsa Shock [-13]
[12-week rating: 7
10-week rating: 9
ASB rating: 4
6-week rating: 2
4-week rating: 2
2-week rating: 2]
.325 [6th] – 6.06 [2nd] out of 18.65 [1st]
.338 [9th] – 4.76 [6th] out of 14.12 [4th]
No. 8 San Antonio Stars [-14]
[12-week rating: 10
10-week rating: 7
ASB rating: 10
6-week rating: 12
4-week rating: 10
2-week rating: 8]
.295 [12th] – 3.76 [11th] out of 12.76 [9th]
.309 [2nd] – 3.85 [1st] out of 12.47 [1st]
No. 9 Chicago Sky [-18]
[12-week rating: 12
10-week rating: 12
ASB rating: 12
6-week rating: 10
4-week rating: 11
2-week rating: 10]
.327 [5th] – 4.15 [9th] out of 12.68 [10th]
.345 [10th] – 5.21 [10th] out of 15.09 [7th]
No. 10 Connecticut Sun [-23]
[12-week rating: 5
10-week rating: 3
ASB rating: 7
6-week rating: 5
4-week rating: 6
2-week rating: 1]
.335 [3rd] – 6.15 [1st] out of 18.32 [2nd]
.358 [12th] – 4.74 [5th] out of 13.24 [3rd]
No. 11 Los Angeles Sparks [-30]
[12-week rating: 9
10-week rating: 8
ASB rating: 9
6-week rating: 9
4-week rating: 8
2-week rating: 12]
.297 [11th] – 4.26 [8th] out of 14.38 [7th]
.327 [7th] – 4.71 [4th] out of 14.41 [5th]
No. 12 New York Liberty [-37]
[12-week rating: 11
10-week rating: 11
ASB rating: 11
6-week rating: 11
4-week rating: 9
2-week rating: 11]
.309 [10th] – 3.76 [11th] out of 12.18 [12th]
.346 [11th] – 5.71 [12th] out of 16.5 [12th]