Sugar: An ingredient of success
Former King’s Fork High School basketball star Sugar Rodgers and the rest of the New York Liberty enter a must-win road game Sunday against the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals.
New York reached the playoffs this year after achieving unprecedented success in the regular season. The Liberty won the Eastern Conference, securing home court advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and the Liberty also won 23 games for the first time, producing the best regular season record in the league this year — 23-11.
Rodgers is no stranger to big-time success after being a member of the Minnesota Lynx when they won the WNBA championship in 2013. But that was her first year in the league, and she played only sparingly.
The mid-season return of veteran guard Epiphanny Prince from overseas has reduced Rodgers’ minutes this year, but the Suffolk standout has been an undeniably significant contributor to the Liberty’s success.
“It’s been great,” Rodgers said. “To be honest, I’ve just been living in the moment. It’s always good to make history at a franchise, because they’ll remember this for a long time. So, like I said, I’ve just been living in the moment, appreciating the fact of just being here, just being thankful.”
In 33 regular season games played this year, including five in which she started, Rodgers averaged 18.7 minutes, 8.1 points (third-best on the team), 2.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, shooting 88.1 percent from the free throw line — all career highs.
“Overall, I’ve been excited about the journey — me just getting to play, me getting shots up, me being a key part to this team and taking on that responsibility, but I know there’s much more that I can do,” she said.
In Game One of the conference semifinals on Friday at Madison Square Garden, New York fell 86-83 in double overtime to the Mystics.
Rodgers saw nearly nine minutes of playing time but struggled from the field, going 0-for-3, finishing with one point on a free throw, one rebound and one assist.
Headed into Friday’s game, she knew the Liberty were in for a challenge.
“We definitely can expect everybody playing hard — it’s the playoffs,” she said. “Nobody wants to go home now, so you know everybody’s going to come out and play hard. It’s just about executing your game plan, and that’s it.”
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer held a similar perspective, not influenced by the disparity between his team’s regular season record and that of the Mystics, which finished at 18-16 but went 3-1 against the Liberty.
“I think the playoffs are wide open, anybody can beat anybody, and so it’s just a matter of trying to win our home games,” he said on Thursday. “Try to win every home game we play, we win the championship, but it’s easier said than done because every team is good.”
New York plays Sunday to keep its season alive in Washington D.C. at 1 p.m. on ESPN.