A Bounce Back Season For Boyd

 

By Patrick Ralph

 

The date was May 18, 2017. The setting was Madison Square Garden, where the New York Liberty were set to face the Minnesota Lynx in their second game of the new WNBA season.

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Brittany Boyd, the starting point guard for the Liberty, was having a great game. She had scored 16 points for New York, including 14 of which came in the second half.

But in the fourth quarter, Boyd’s strong play came to a screeching halt when she suffered a torn left Achilles tendon. Unbeknownst to Boyd at the time, she would not step back onto the Garden floor to play in a basketball game until June 2018.

The Lynx, who would go on to win the WNBA championship later that fall, would come away with a convincing 90-71 road win against arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference at the time.

But for the Liberty, they lost more than just a game on this date: New York lost its starting point guard for the season.

After a strong 2016 season in which she finished in the top five in the WNBA in steals and helped contribute to the Liberty’s Eastern Conference-best 21-13 record, Boyd spent the offseason preparing to assume the full-time starting point guard duties for New York in 2017.

In the Liberty’s opening game of the 2017 campaign, Boyd scored 10 points as New York rolled past the now-defunct San Antonio Stars to collect their first win of the season.

Boyd’s year came crashing down in the fourth quarter at home against Minnesota after she went down with the season-ending injury, one of the worst that an athlete can suffer.

The most recent well-known case of a professional athlete tearing their Achilles tendon was Kobe Bryant, and his career was never the same after he suffered the injury.

For Boyd, the injury made her feel upset and confused.

“I was disappointed,” Boyd said to WNBAInsidr. “I didn’t quite understand why me at that moment that this injury happened. With the work I put in the previous offseason and the good start I got off to, it was frustrating.”

The recovery for a torn Achilles tendon is approximately 12 months, meaning that it would be a long time before Boyd would step back onto the court for the Liberty.

“The recovery was boring and slow,” Boyd said. “It was really repetitive and the same things over and over again. I like change so it was really frustrating. It was a challenge and a test of my character to push through the rehab.”

What did not make the recovery any easier was the strong play of New York as Boyd was forced to sit on the bench and watch her teammates finish the 2017 season with a 10-game win streak and capture the best record in the East for a third straight year. Boyd did not let her injury get in the way of the team’s success.

“It was great to see them win and Bria Hartley step up in my place,” Boyd said. “Everyone stepped up. I was just happy to see them play so well. I’m not a selfish person so I didn’t make it about me. I still supported them.”

Boyd would not be cleared to return to full basketball activities until training camp, when she would take part in 5-on-5 for the first time since her injury the previous May. When the doctors gave Boyd the green light to resume shooting, she said that she was so excited to start playing basketball again.

Fast forward to June 5, 2018. The Liberty are set to host the Phoenix Mercury in one of their two “Camp Day” games of the season at The World’s Most Famous Arena. But for the first time in almost 13 months, Boyd’s name did not appear in the New York injury report. She was suited up and ready to play in her season debut.

“It’s showtime and time to work your way back,” Boyd recounted feeling when she came off the bench for the Liberty in their 80-74 loss to Phoenix. “It’s going to take time day by day, but I can do this.”

Since returning to the Liberty lineup, Boyd has come back even stronger and better than before the injury. She’s averaging career highs in field-goal percentage (41.4 percent), three-point percentage (33.3 percent), free-throw percentage (78 percent), and assists (5.3 per game).

Boyd’s assists and steals (1.3 per game) numbers are tops on the Liberty this season, and she ranks in the top five in the WNBA in assists this year. Being able to impact the game in a variety of ways has been the X-factor this season, according to Boyd.

“When I’m on the floor, I’m thinking ‘How do I find other ways to contribute to and impact the game without scoring?’”, Boyd said. “I’ve never been a big-time scorer, so my goal is to just go out there and give it all I got.”

Boyd’s strong 2018 season has been the silver lining in what has been a disappointing year for the Liberty. With the second-worst record in the league and having not won a single game since before the All-Star break, the Liberty’s three-year playoff run with the best record in the East is over.

Not to mention, the cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the franchise’s future ownership and location this season has not helped either.

“Losing is not fun,” Boyd said. “It’s no fun for anybody on this team. But at the end of the day, this is our job. We get paid to do this. We gotta show up and play and be the best you everyday and continue trying to get better. We still have to be thankful for this opportunity and not take anything for granted.”

While it has been a down season for New York, Boyd has nothing but high marks for first-year head coach Katie Smith.

“Katie has done a great job at preparing us,” Boyd said of Smith, who had served as an assistant coach for the Liberty for four years before taking over the top spot after Bill Laimbeer left New York last offseason to become the head coach and general manager of the Las Vegas Aces.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing for her,” Boyd continued. “Transitioning from assistant coach to head coach is not easy and I respect that. She’s a player-coach and she wants to create her own identity.”

According to Boyd, Smith’s hands-on involvement with the team’s offensive and defensive strategy as an assistant has helped make the transition easier.

With only three games remaining in the season for New York, all of which are on the road, Boyd said she’s focused on finishing the season strong before shifting her mindset to the offseason.

“After the season, it’ll be time to get bigger, stronger, and faster,” Boyd said. “I’ll be looking forward to getting back in the gym and working on improving my game for next year.”