When historians look back on the fall of the 2021 New York Liberty, a key stat that will jump out is the team’s tendency to turnover the ball. The Liberty give up 17.2 turnovers a game, which is the most in the WNBA. If the season ended today, the Liberty would be in the top 20 of the most turnover prone teams in all of WNBA history (thank you Across The Timeline for the stats).
Sitting at 11-13, the Liberty NEEDED a win against the 10-13 Los Angeles Sparks. With a tough second half schedule against mostly playoff teams, this was a must-win game for the Liberty going up against a team that was on the outside looking in. What is most frustrating is this was a winnable game for the Liberty who were in the lead for most of the game and blew it because they wasted so many offensive possessions turning over the ball.
The Liberty finished the game with 22 turnovers, their eighth time this season that they finished with 20+ turnovers. No other team in the league has more than four such games. New York led at halftime 45-38 and 72-66 after the 3rd quarter, but threw their lead away in the 4th quarter to lose 86-83. In the last quarter, the Liberty had the same amount of turnovers that they had field goal attempts- 9.
There is no question that if the Liberty turned the ball over less they’d have won this game against the Sparks fairly easily. Even despite all of the turnovers, the Liberty led for most of this game, but clearly their sloppiness was not sustainable to win. The Liberty did not give themselves an opportunity to score 22 times which would have drastically changed the score of this game.
This is not the first close game the Liberty should have won that was blown over turnovers. On May 24 against the much weaker Atlanta Dream, the Liberty had 20 turnovers and lost 90-87. A few less turnovers might’ve also secured a win for the Liberty. If the Liberty had won these two games they’d be 13-12 instead of 11-14.
Losing this game puts the Liberty in a situation where the playoffs come into question. The Liberty and Sparks are the #7 and #8 seeds but the Dallas Wings only trail by half a game. The Mystics are 1.5 games behind the Liberty and now have Elena Delle Donne back in the picture. The playoff race for those last two spots are wide open between the Liberty, Sparks, Wings, and Mystics.
During the next four games the Liberty play the 13-10 Phoenix Mercury twice, the 14-9 Minnesota Lynx, and the 18-7 Seattle Storm. The Liberty need to start winning some games against elite teams in order to make the playoffs. The Liberty cannot afford to lose all of these games and end up 11-18.
If the Liberty end up missing the playoffs, we can absolutely blame their penchant for turning over the ball. On what is otherwise a good team with extremely skilled and talented players, the turnovers are hurting the overall quality of the Liberty to the point where it could cost them a chance at the playoffs.
On a positive note, the Liberty are in a position to make the most three-point shots in WNBA history. According to Across The Timeline, the Liberty are already tied for 10th all-time in three-point field goals made in a season with 258. The 2019 Washington Mystics made the most three-pointers in a season with 316. The Liberty play seven more times this season and need to average 8.2 threes a game to break the record. The Liberty currently average 10.3 three-pointers per game this season.
Sami Whitcomb in particular is having an all-time great three-point shooting season. Whitcomb has made 69 three-pointers this season which leads the entire WNBA. If Whitcomb continues to average 2.7 three-pointers a game, she will finish with about 88 three-pointers made, which would be good enough for 7th all-time in a season tied with Katie Smith. The most three-point shots ever made in a season is 121 by Diana Taurasi, who in six different seasons holds the top six spots. Whitcomb is on pace to insert herself on this list.
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Photo Credit: New York Liberty Twitter