This season, New York Liberty fans have gotten a glimpse of their possible future in the present through the play of their young and talented guards.
Moral victories don’t count in the WNBA standings. If they did, the New York Liberty might be running away with the league’s best record.
The young Liberty, reeling from a franchise-worst 7-27 mark from last season, were seen by many as a rebuilding squad entering 2019. Early results have yielded a 3-7 mark, but there’s hope in the form of five of the defeats coming by single-digits. The team sits one game out of a playoff spot entering Thursday. Adding an extra pat on the back is the fact that four players have absconded overseas for the FIBA EuroBasket Women’s competition, while another Rebecca Allen, is out indefinitely with a hand fracture.
A 91-83 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Sky was one such occasion. The Liberty had hung tough with the Sky, then celebrating their fifth win in a row, back on June 19, but couldn’t overcome strong outside shooting from Chicago veterans in the late stages.
Losing by a mere eight was enough of a positive takeaway, but the Liberty avoided true disaster after the second quarter. Kia Nurse, the team’s first-round draft pick from 2018, left the game after a successful attempt to keep a possession alive ended in a displaced ankle. Nurse limped around until a whistle came, then immediately met with the training staff. As the team reconvened for the second half, Nurse was the last to emerge from the Westchester County Center locker room, but played a majority of the latter session. Three days later, Nurse would play all 40 minutes of the Liberty’s visit to Minnesota. It was the second time she partook in a complete game this season.
After the Chicago game, Nurse spoke about her injury…or lack thereof.
“(The ankle’s) still on. Why does everyone keep asking me if I’m hurt?”
The comments drew a chuckle from her rookie locker neighbor Asia Durr. Laughs aren’t the only thing the only two are sharing these days. Exploits of New York basketball are, until further notice, defined by the on-court antics of Tina Charles. But the pair of guards foretell a bright Big Apple future.
That future was first solidified with the January purchase of the team by Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai. Months after he acquired the team from the Madison Square Garden Company, Durr became one of the first acquisitions via the second overall pick in the WNBA Draft. In one of her first New York statements, she was grateful that she wouldn’t have to see Nurse don an opposing jersey upon her league entry.
“I’m glad to be on her team now,” Durr said after a May preseason game. “I remember she faceguarded me the whole time, stood on top of me, couldn’t go anywhere.”
Durr was referring to a February 2018 college matchup that saw her Louisville Cardinals, ranked fourth at the time, battle Nurse and the Connecticut Huskies in their customary top spot. In the game, Durr, then a junior, reached her customary scoring plateau of 20 points, but the stifling defense of Nurse required her to shoot 19 times to get there. By no coincidence, UConn won a 69-58 decision that was never close.
“I love her game. I’m really glad I don’t have to guard her anymore That makes me happy,” Nurse remarked at the draft. “It’ll be fun to have her on my team this year.”
Yet, asked for an update on their chemistry after the Chicago game, Nurse only remarked “I don’t like her” and called their relationship “unsalvageable”. Again, the pair could only hold straight faces for so long before revealing the true nature and improvement of their collaboration.
“It’s great to be teammates with someone who’s a great player and a great person at the same time,” Nurse said. “Offensively, she makes great reads, she can get her shot whenever she needs to. She’s effective from anywhere on the court. I love playing with a player like that. I love playing with a player who’s fiery, got that passion, wants to play on both ends of the floor. When you can create that chemistry off the court, it makes even greater on.”
“(The relationship) been great on the court and off the court,” Durr concurred. “She plays super hard for the whole game. I told her on the bench ‘it’s been fun playing these first games by your side…keep doing your thing’.”
Since missing a June 9 win over Las Vegas with an illness, Durr has reached double-figures in four of the five ensuing games to climb to the top of the rookie scoring list. Nurse has likewise gone on her own tear, reaching the same 10-point rate in each of her past seven games. In three of those contests, Nurse has at least doubled it to 20.
The scoring prowess from Nurse, who is averaging 20 points a game since June 12, is a stark contrast from the lockdown defensive specialist role she starred in at Storrs. But the least surprised of anyone in the Liberty organization about Nurse’s transformation is Durr, one of the newest members.
“She plays hard all the time. Players who play hard the whole game, good things are bound to happen,” she said. “I’m trying to be a sponge. Trying to learn. I’ve pushed myself every day. Just trying to be great.”
The sisterhood barely needs 10 games to reach new, national heights. Earlier this month, the pair was chosen to be the latest hardwood models for the iconic Jordan Brand. They’re the lone pair of active WNBA participants that are under the Jumpman logo’s influence.
“I think it’s so cool, especially to have my teammate playing by my side,” Durr told Kellen Becoats of Sports Illustrated. “I don’t think you see too many teammates on the same team under the same shoe deal. So I think that’s pretty cool for me and her to be signed with Jordan, not only that but we’re the only two females players in the league.”
New York is a city that has consistently been entertained by the antics of showstopping guards. Teresa Weatherspoon got the Liberty franchise off on the right foot. Becky Hammon played her way up to the coaching levels. The current head coach ended her Hall of Fame career donning aquamarine.
Struggling to fully exorcise themselves from basketball purgatory, the arrival of this pair serves as a promise to the Liberty’s vocal fanbase that dawn may soon emerge.
“We’ve got some good starts, but we have to do it each quarter, each play,” Durr acknowledged. “We’ve got some good looks out there. We’re just trying to build.”
on Twitter @GeoffMags5490