Sugar Rodgers came out of college as a prolific scorer. New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer is proud of the strides she's made on defense.
Rodgers scored a career-high 15 points, including seven in the final 3 minutes, and played stellar defense on Sue Bird in the second half to help New York beat the Seattle Storm 70-64 on Tuesday night.
"She was a great scorer in college and you saw the old Sugar Rodgers tonight. She made some great plays," Laimbeer said of the former Georgetown star. "We knew she was a quality defender. She was on Sue Bird the whole second half. Both ends of the floor, she was the difference in the game."
The Liberty trailed 62-54 with 2:55 left and had scored just one basket over the previous 13 minutes when Rodgers came to life. Her 3-pointer made it a five-point game. After Bird answered with a jumper, New York scored the final 11 points of the game, including five by Rodgers. Her 3-pointer with 1:06 left tied it at 64.
Cappie Pondexter then hit a jumper with 24.9 seconds left to give New York a lead. After Bird missed a pullup on the other end, Plenette Pierson hit two free throws to make it a four-point game. Rodgers then forced a turnover by Bird on the next possession to seal the win for the Liberty (2-2).
"It was great to contribute," Rodgers said. "Once I came into the pros I knew I had to pick up my defense."
It was New York's first win at Madison Square Garden this season and first since 2010. The Liberty spent the last three seasons playing in New Jersey while the Garden was undergoing a $1 billion renovation.
"The players were pressing a little to try and win here," Laimbeer said. "Now hopefully we can relax a little bit."
Tina Charles of the Liberty had 15 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 6 for 19 from the field.
"We got some good looks, we didn't finish some shots," Laimbeer said.
Bird led Seattle (1-4) with 21 points, but only had four in the second half. Crystal Langhorne added 13 points and 15 rebounds.
"We let this one get away," Bird said. "You try to get a few wins on the road and this was one of them we should have had."
The teams traded baskets early in the third quarter. Shekinna Stricklen's 3-pointer with 5:58 left gave Seattle a 45-44 lead. Essence Carson answered with a 3 to put New York back on top. Those would be the last points of the quarter for the Liberty. Seattle couldn't really take advantage of New York's scoring drought. They couldn't manage a basket either after Stricklen's 3-pointer, but converted five free throws to take a 52-47 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Charles finally ended New York's drought hitting a layup early in the fourth. That would be the Liberty's only basket of the quarter until Rodgers got going as Seattle was able to build its lead to 62-54.
Seattle was able to stay in the game early because of Bird. She scored 17 points for the Storm, who closed the first half on a 17-5 run after trailing by nine points. The All-Star guard had seven points and an assist during the spurt. Her pullup with 2.9 seconds left made it 35-32.
Seattle is nearing the end of a five-game eastern swing that will conclude Friday in Atlanta. The Storm play 10 of their first 13 games on the road — the most ever to start a season according to STATS.
The Storm were without guard Jenna O'Hea, who is sidelined 4 to 6 weeks with a broken left pinky toe.
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