A combined 41 points from Kia Nurse and Layshia Clarendon weren’t enough for the New York Liberty to overcome a double-digit deficit.
The New York Liberty continue to put up solid 25-30 minute efforts in a most unusual WNBA season, but the cruel reality is that professional games last 40.
Kia Nurse and Layshia Clarendon united for 41 points, but the Liberty were unable to erase a deficit that got as high as 16, falling to the Indiana Fever by an 86-79 final on Thursday night in the Bradenton bubble. Tiffany Mitchell led the way with 19 points for Indiana, while the unrelated Kelsey Mitchell had 18 more.
“(Indiana) is good. They got to the rim. Our bigs were afraid to leave their (assignments) because of the offensive rebound ability,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “I thought the rhythm the Mitchells set really set the tone.”
The Liberty (1-8) fell behind early, trailing 27-17 after the first quarter. Their halftime deficit was 11, but the remainder of the game was played mostly in the close confines of single digits. New York was able to get as close as five in the third quarter and whittled it all the way down to two in the latter stages. A late defensive lapse, however, allowed the Fever (4-5) to escape with a win.
Kelsey Mitchell, mostly held in check after 13 points in the first half, provided the dagger with a three-pointer that made it 82-77 with 31 seconds to go. New York allowed only 35 points in the second half after trailing 51-40 at halftime.
Clarendon scored quickly on the other side, but Indiana sank their free throws to close it out.
The unfortunate part for the LIberty was that their strong showing came as Nurse, a 2019 All-Star, began to find a bit of a stride. She shot only 4-of-15 from the field but she found new ways to contribute, complimenting a season-best 21 points with six rebounds. Nurse also got to the foul line 12 times, converting all but one of her attempts.
“She’s still putting in the work,” Clarendon said of Nurse’s efforts. “She had a conversation with Coach Walt with what else she can be doing. She had six rebounds and played with a lot of energy and hustle. She’s finding ways to impact the game.”
“Outside of shots falling, Nurse played really, really well,” Hopkins added. “On a night when shots weren’t falling, she found a way. That was impressive.”
Rookie Jazmine Jones also reached double-figures (11 points) for the second straight game after tallying a career-best 24 on Tuesday against Los Angeles. Both Clarendon and fellow veteran Kiah Stokes each played nearly 37 minutes, with Stokes tallying nine points on a career-best three triples.
Two of the Liberty’s past three losses have come by single digits. They’ll get another chance against Indiana on September 10.
The Liberty return to action on Saturday for a rematch with the Minnesota Lynx (6 p.m. ET, CBSSN). Minnesota won the first of two matchups on August 5, using a strong third quarter to earn a 92-66 triumph.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags