Commentary

Picture this: Film study lifted Liberty

Players-only video session was catalyst for team's unlikely run to WNBA playoffs

Updated: August 26, 2010, 9:13 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The Liberty fell to 4-7 after a home loss to the Minnesota Lynx on June 22. It was then that coach Anne Donovan sensed the team had reached a breaking point. Either the 2010 campaign was going to be a mediocre one, with the team floundering around the .500 mark, or Donovan's players were going to wake up before their next game -- a road contest against Tulsa -- and start playing to their potential.

The coach didn't deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech to the Liberty to get her point across after the following day's practice. Instead, she said nothing at all.

"I knew I had done enough talking, so after that game we asked the players to watch video of that game by themselves," Donovan said. "They were in there for three hours watching the tape, dissecting it, dissecting their roles and responsibilities. They came out of that with a different will."

Nothing changed overnight for the Liberty. They won three straight after the Minnesota loss but then dropped two in a row heading into the WNBA All-Star break.

But Donovan noticed a different intensity in the team's practices.

"You could see every day in the gym that there was a worker's mentality of not letting the season pass," the coach said. "The players understood. They really, as a group, took ownership of working to get better."

Indeed, the Liberty went 18-5 after the loss to Minnesota, reeling off a franchise-record 10 straight wins in the second half. They secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the Indiana Fever in Game 1 of the best-of-three conference semifinals Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Liberty split the season series with the defending conference champs.

"They have a superstar in [Tamika] Catchings, they have a terrific coaching staff and they have experience, so it's going to be a difficult series," Liberty GM Carol Blazejowski said. "But we have our own superstar in Cappie [Pondexter]."

Pondexter, who was traded from the Phoenix Mercury to the Liberty in a three-team swap in late March, averaged 23.8 points against the Fever this season.

She will be swarmed by Indiana defenders, likely leaving open opportunities on the perimeter for the Liberty. So the team's success will hinge partly on its ability to knock down open shots.

"They're happy to put two or three people on [Pondexter] and leave somebody open," Donovan said. "Other people have to be ready to step up and knock down shots."

Pondexter, who won two titles in Phoenix, thinks that the Liberty has the cohesion and chemistry necessary to win a WNBA championship.

"Definitely, there's no question about that," said Pondexter, who won five Eastern Conference player of the week awards in the regular season. "The chemistry that we have and the togetherness, that's all you need. In Phoenix, we weren't the most talented team, but we had our backs no matter what. I think this team has the same characteristic."

It's a chemistry that was developed through early-season hardships and second-half successes. And the players-only film session in late June certainly didn't hurt.

"After we had that [team] discussion, it seemed like everything was on the rise since then," Liberty guard Essence Carson said. "We're looking to keep it that way."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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