KID POWER FUELS LIBERTY WIN OVER ATLANTA
It was a playoff atmosphere yesterday afternoon for the New York Liberty – Atlanta Dream game at Madison Square Garden. The invitation of many community organizations to attend the game gave the Garden a big time feel. The upper tier was opened as well, the first time since the Liberty return to the Garden this season. The sound of hundreds of children cheering the Liberty reverberated throughout the arena, and it made a difference as Atlanta and New York went at each other hard. Dream coach Michael Cooper noticed. “It is always tough playing on the road, especially with the atmosphere the Liberty had today with the excitement of the kids,” he said. The Liberty were in control for most of the game, minus an implosion in the fourth. Yet, unlike the Los Angeles game, New York stubbornly held off potential game winners, and with 0.4 seconds on the clock, Cappie Pondexter hit a jumper from the left of the key to win it 77-75 and keep the Liberty (8-13) in the talk for future playoff possibilities.
Coach Bill Laimbeer even spoke about Atlanta being a potential first round playoff opponent. “We match up well with Atlanta (15-6). We want to make sure that if we played them in the first round that we set the tone, play physical basketball, and try to take things away from them,” Laimbeer explained. Angel McCoughtry started off dueling with Sugar Rodgers for Top Gun. Sugar drove hard and used her size to score a tough layup off the backboard, one of her eight starting off. Angel made an impressive strip from behind on newly christened All-Star Tina Charles, but Anna Cruz, who receives cheap shots game in and game out, fouled Hayes on a transition score attempt and Tiffany smashed shoulder first. Hayes responded by hitting a three to tie matters, but Avery Warley-Talbert, getting the tough points and rebounds, layup put New York up, but Angel closed the opening quarter with a deadly three.
The second quarter was a grind, but the Liberty was getting balanced scoring, as Plenette Pierson was staking a claim from the bench and finished with 14 points and 4 boards. “Plenette is a steadying force for us out there. I’d like to play her thirty minutes plus, but I can’t. She has a minute’s restriction on her,” Laimbeer admitted. “Her knee was swollen before the game.” Sugar had 15 and was taking Dream guards off the dribble, a new dimension prevalent in her college days, but kept under raps as a pro. The Liberty shooting was off, but their efforts in the blocks saw them out-rebound Atlanta 23-15 at the half to a 45-40 lead at the half. “Avery Warley-Talbert was a physical presence out there. Plenette is always a big physical presence and I thought Cash got in there and mixed it up, too,” Laimbeer stated.
The third saw more of the same; Anna Cruz (10 points, 5 boards) and Cappie Pondexter ran the offense well. Tina Charles, whose shots were off a bit, grinded to double digit numbers and rebounds. Alex Montgomery’s and Sugar Rodgers’ threes kept the pace going into the third. If not for McCoughtry’s 3, the lead would be bigger than the ten.
But suddenly, the Liberty could not find the basket and the Dream transition game translated to a 10-0 run to tie matters at 65. Charles summarized that moment. “Basketball is a game of runs,” he explained. “I knew Angel was going to try to pull one off and try to will the team to victory.” Suddenly Swin Cash hit a crucial corner shot, one of two she would tally. The final six minutes would see great plays as control shifted back and forth. Angel’s two free throws cutting it to one. A tough drive made it 73-72; Anna Cruz’s jumper increased it to three. Jazmin Thomas hit a three for Atlanta with 39 seconds left to tie it at 75 and gained possession.
Then, Cappie stripped the ball with 30 seconds left. Cappie went for the winning shot, but missed a good look. Alex Montgomery saved the day coming close to a strip on a drive, but got a jump ball call. The duel came off of Souza, who tried to save it with seven seconds.
Finally, in the end, it was a basic play by the Liberty that opened the window. Plenette got the ball at the top of the key and a cutting Cappie picked the handoff and dribbled left a couple of steps and shot. The ball banked off the backboard. 0.4 seconds on the clock proclaiming this moment to be her’s. Cappie finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 7 assists. “It’s hard to go to a post player,” Laimbeer explained. “You really can’t throw the ball into a post player for a last second shot because they can trap her, and the outlet pass takes too long to get the ball loose.” A failed desperate shot later and the Liberty had held on their home court. Angel conceded grudgingly. “I thought we should have switched it to make het pull back a bit, but she hit the big one that helped her win the game. You have to go to a guard and Pondexter seems like the logical choice,” Laimbeer added. Now, as they head to the All-Star break followed by a trip to Los Angeles, the second half suddenly has potential.
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