Credit: Bill Moore photo

“The time for talking is done,” said an angry New York Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins after the first of two losses to the Phoenix Mercury last week. To keep travel to a minimum for health and safety purposes, visiting teams often play two games when they visit a city. Last Wednesday, the Liberty lost to the Mercury 106–79 in a game dominated by Mercury center Brittney Griner.

Griner was on the sidelines with an injury for Friday’s game, but Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith brought the fire and the Mercury prevailed 80–64. “We got really sped up consistently,” said Hopkins. “We kept running into traffic, traveling, going too fast.

“The team needs to believe in themselves,” he added. “When you’ve lost a few games, you start to…feel like it’s the same thing. It’s not the same thing. You always have an option. You always have a choice to adjust and make the changes. Down the stretch of these last few games, we haven’t made the choice to go take the game, to go win the game. We’re playing scared. We’re running out of time to make the adjustment. We’ll keep working on it.”

Hopkins said the team could have controlled its own destiny but didn’t win the games it needed to win. He was frustrated that mistakes are being repeated. “The sometimes effort, the sometimes staying together, the head hanging, it’s got to change,” he said.

Hopkins spoke about the team’s veteran leaders—Sami Whitcomb, Betnijah Laney and Natasha Howard—finding their voices. While all have experience as players, they’ve not previously been in this kind of leadership role. The same could be said of Hopkins. His only previous WNBA coaching experiences were three years as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Lynx and one season as a player development coach with the Tulsa Shock.

“The experience is essential, but they’ve got to learn from it and they’ve got to grow,” said Hopkins. “When you talk about my background in terms of leadership, in terms of trying to teach that, it’s to focus on the process of day-to-day improvement and not be overly swayed up or down by wins or losses. You’ve just to focus on are you growing? In some ways we’ve seen growth and in some ways, we’ve seen regression.”

The Liberty is on the road until mid-September when the team returns to Barclays Center for the final regular season game of 2021. What happens between now and then determines whether the season continues or comes to a close.