FURIOUS FOURTH BY LIBERTY HANDS ATLANTA FIRST LOSS
Added by Luis Vazquez on June 10, 2013.
Photo credit: Marlene Amaya-Vazquez.
It was Dad’s and Daughter’s Game and with former Knicks Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, and Herb Williams, and current Knick J.R. Smith in attendance at the Prudential Center, the New York Liberty were out to avenge a beating they received down in Atlanta Friday Night against the team they were playing tonight.
The Flame was hot and confident at 4-0 and the Liberty at 2-2, lost their leading scorer Essence Carson to an ACL injury for the season in that aforementioned road travesty.
“I have one less weapon I can go too. She is a very stable starter. We are going to miss her a lot.” Coach Laimbeer explained.
The Liberty survived deficits along the way to rally for their third home win in as many tries. The difference was in the defensive fury.
“The defense got stops. We made them a perimeter team instead of letting them attack. And we made shots,” explained Kelsey Bone.
The Liberty survived Jasmine Thomas and her seven first quarter points by getting heavy contributions by their big players in Plenette Pierson, who along with Kara Braxton tallied 4 each in the first as Cappie Pondexter went 0 for 4. It was a hard fought opening period as the Liberty led by 17-15. The New York defense was able to contain Angel McCoughtry, who hurt them throughout the game in Atlanta initially, but in the second she erupted for 7 points and 4 rebounds in the second en route to a 15 point night.
Plenette and Braxton continued to keep it close as Cappy continued to have trouble shooting as she went 1 for 7 by halftime. However Cappie got four assists and Kelsey Bone came alive with a basket off a nice feed from Kamiko Williams and added six timely rebounds.
“So long as I get in there and stop their key player, rebound and keep running I’m going to get a lot of minutes, that’s what I’m here for,” said Bone.
But the Dream finished strong as Sancho Lyttle and Tiffany Hayes added big contributions. Sancho scored six and added five boards while Hayes seven points took the Dream took a one point lead at the half 33-32.
The third continued to be a war of attrition. Every time the Liberty made a run, Atlanta answered with Sancho Lyttle scoring 16 by this point and Angel and especially Tiffany Hayes with 11 points apiece adding to a lead as they even took a game high nine point lead. The Liberty players recognized that with Essence out for the year that each of them would have to step it up. The insertion of Alex Montgomery and Leilani Mitchell started to make a difference as their speed started to neutralize the Atlanta fast break.
“Alex is a big strong kid,” Laimbeer said. “Great athlete, learning how to play basketball still. She gets in there and guards the best player, she wants to play.”
Leilani’s hustle to the tune of seven rebounds and three steals and quickness kept the Flame players from getting to the basket while igniting New York’s own break. Leilani shared some of the tactics New York used.
“In the second half we closed the paint. We know they like to drive. They are going to try to get into the lane. And rebound because they are athletic and can jump.” “Mitchell came in and gave a great defensive spark. She dug all the loose balls out and deflections,” Laimbeer added. “The rebounds she got were impressive for being the smallest player on the floor.”
The tough and heady play of Katie Smith finally started frustrating Atlanta inside as they started trying to draw fouls by acting. Laimbeer was pleased with that aspect: “Kara played well again.” The Dream still had a 55-51 lead after three, however.
But the fourth something took over as the Liberty defensively clamped down as Dream leading scorer Sancho Lyttle, who finished with 18, had only 2 in the final quarter.
“Our intensity level did rise in the fourth quarter,” Kelsey Bone added. “Play every second every minute hard, do your job.”
A jumper by Mitchell followed by a three pointer by Cappie started the momentum moving in New York’s favor.
“We know we have to win our home games because we know in the postseason it’s important to have that advantage,” Leilani added.
Cappie adjusted to a bad shooting day by penetrating under and scoring under the defenses again and again.
“I like to have the ball in the fourth quarter. I like to step up when my team needs me,” said Cappie. “I just kept telling myself. Everyone struggles.”
She started piling on the assists as well and despite the struggles Cappie finished with 17 points to tie for the lead and added six boards and six assists. Coach Laimbeer felt that was the key in the fourth.
“Cappy Pondexter was very aggressive and that really makes us go,” added Laimbeer. “It energizes our whole team when she plays like that.”
The Liberty center, Kara Braxton started taking advantage of the spread offense near the end going one and one and showing a lot of versatility with 14 points and five boards as well as New York put it away. Toni Young added eight points and two wing jumpers as well helped open things up. The defensive intensity was so intense that Atlanta was outscored 25-12 in the fourth. The final minutes for once could be enjoyed as the Liberty won by a score of 76-67.
“They are learning who I am and they are learning what they need to do to win. Tonight I felt we were a sound defensive ball club,” Laimbeer stated proudly.