By Mel Greenberg
NEW YORK - The last time the New York Liberty and Detroit Shock crossed paths, the Shock survived a close encounter in the deciding game of the Eastern finals on the way to a third league title.
Much has changed in the early going of the current season since Detroit danced in the streets of Motown last fall.
Bill Laimbeer quit as the Shock coach in the middle of last month, replaced by assistant and former 76ers Rick Mahorn.
And on Thursday night here in Madison Square Garden, the two long-time rivals found themselves battling at the bottom of the conference standings.
The appropriately named Liberty launched the arrival of the Fourth of July holiday weekend by lighting up the scoreboard for an 80-68 victory that enabled New York (3-6) to bolt out of the Eastern cellar a half-game ahead of Detroit (2-6).
Although the Liberty provided the offensive fireworks, highlighted by Shameka Christon's 25 points, it was New York's defensive stand in the second period that helped gain control of the game.
"We couldn't score off their turnovers but they scored against our turnovers," Mahorn said. "That was the difference in the first half. In the second half we competed, but we just didn't get a good chance or break."
The Shock were forced into 10 turnovers and the Liberty produced a huge 22-8 differential in the quarter.
"This was probably the best 40 minutes so far this season for us," said New York coach Pat Coyle after her team snapped a three-game losing streak.
"You know I just talked about executing on both ends of the floor and I think it helps when you make some shots, but I thought defensively we did a pretty good job."
The announced crowd of some 8,018 fans saw plenty of fireworks from the Liberty's three-point shooting with a sizzling 12-for-25 from the perimeter, one short of the franchise record. Detroit was limited to 2-of-12 beyond the arc.
Loree Moore, who tied a career high with five three-pointers, added 15 points, Cathrine Kraayveld scored 13, and second-year pro Essence Carson from Rutgers scored 12. Cheryl Ford's 13 points led the Shock.
The game had a bit of a Philadelphia accent beyond Mahorn's involvement. Coyle is a Rutgers graduate who also starred with her twin sister Mary at West Catholic in the late 1970s.
Assistant coach Cheryl Reeve, who also was named Detroit's general manager after Laimbeeer's departure, is a former La Salle star who is from South Jersey. She had a large contingent of family and friends in the house.
Speaking of South Jersey, although not connected to the WNBA, another product of the area was in the news yesterday.
Lisa Cermignano, a former George Washington star and Colonials assistant, is moving from her assistant coaching position at Vanderbilt to Illinois, under Jolette Law, a former Rutgers associate head coach.
The move puts Cermignano in the same state and conference (Big Ten) as her former coach and boss Joe McKeown, the Father Judge graduate who left GW a year ago after a longtime stint to head Northwestern's program.
She had been a finalist to replace him. The move is an extension of a domino of moves in the wake of Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow's passing in January after a lengthy battle against breast cancer.
Former Tennessee star Kellie Jolly Harper replaced Yow at North Carolina State, leaving the head coaching job at Western Carolina vacant to be filled by former Illinois assistant Karen Middleton.