With 6:15 remaining between the New York Liberty and the Atlanta Dream on Friday night at the Gateway Center Arena, Arie McDonald scored a 21-6 run from the steal of Rhine Howard and a layoff in the transition to reduce the Dream’s deficit to seven. Of. It was not the ideal way for the Liberty to close out a game that if won would allow them to control their fate in their next and final regular season game against the same Dream on Sunday. This forced him to sweat and play under pressure for the rest of the game.
But Liberty rose to the occasion. Krystal Dangerfield hesitated at the halfway point to go up to the basket and Monique was able to fool Billings before he could get it to do a hard reverse lay-up, which took New York’s lead with 4:57. Extended to 10. Dream will be seven again, but with only 2:40 left. At Atlanta’s next two properties, Sabrina Ionescu forced a trip to McDonald’s and Stephanie Dolson and Betanijah Laney selected a Howard three that missed. Then, in the last minute, Dream missed a few successful shots and the score ended on an 80-70 Liberty.
Ionescu continued his push to get perhaps some third, fourth or fifth-place MVP votes with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Natasha Howard added 14 points, a season-high tying 12 boards, three helpers and two steals, and Dangerfield led the team with a season-high 18 points to go with a season-high tying six helpers. Laney, who was playing her fourth game following knee surgery, dropped a season-high 17 points and dismissed three assists.
Dangerfield played a season-high 36:01 after playing a season-low 6:56 in the team’s previous game at the Dallas Wings, also a win. The 2020 Rookie of the Year that has been cut this year by the Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever and Liberty might just be New York’s playoff chances.
“He did everything very well for us,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “I talked to him earlier today and said, ‘Hey, didn’t play much in Dallas, it’s about the game that’s coming… it’s a game we know we need you against’ Atlanta .’
“McDonald, he’s fast. But Krystal can probably be as fast as him or sometimes faster. I just told him to be aggressive. Because we knew they’d put pressure on everyone and there for us to be aggressive. Handler is needed. And he made a lot of pull-up shots that he loves. And that’s what we said, ‘Just play your game, be aggressive. Don’t be passive and look for others.’ And she was obviously fantastic for us. She allowed everyone to get the ball out of their hands and didn’t even have to fight the pressure on the floor.”
Brondello was also very pleased with Laney’s performance. Before the start on Friday, Laney had scored seven, four and 11 points respectively in his first three games.
“He’s an all-star,” Brondello said. “But you’re not going to come back out, be an all-star at the start. So all I said, just focus on playing really good defense, where they’re taking open shots. Not forcing the game to come to you. Give. … I thought he played a great game for us.”
“It means a lot, being out there, being able to compete with your teammates, being able to help out in any way you can,” Laney said. “It’s definitely been a journey. Having surgery, missing, what, eight to 10 weeks. … To finally be here and be able to be around them, play with them, it means a lot.
“I think the identity we try and work out is a brotherhood. It’s something we talk about, being a brotherhood, being patient, being confident and just being together.” And I think that’s what we’ve shown in the last few games. And I think it reflects in all our plays. Like we’re getting the ball rolling, we’re sharing it, everyone contributes Able to give. No matter how long you’ve been on the floor, everyone contributed tonight.”
As mentioned, Ionescu has become an All-WNBA First Team-caliber player this year and Howard was in 2019. Howard was heavily invested in when the team traded him the No. 1 pick from the previous season. She was largely touted as Liberty’s best player in 2021, though Laney was certainly expected to be just as good and emerged as an emotional leader who took the big-time shots in 2021. Liberty’s three big three have now earned All-Star distinction. And the depth of the team is also very good and they did not suffer any injuries in Sunday’s regular season finale.
The two teams on the track could not go in more opposite directions to make the final two playoff places. The Phoenix Mercury was down two stars and are recently down two more, with only one potentially returning for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Liberty was down one star (Layne) for most of the season and the second (Howard) feared injury right after the first came back, but is now in full force with all three stars. The reverse of fate could put New York in the playoffs far more dangerous than Phoenix.
“We come out in the next game the same way we came out in the last two games and hopefully it will be ours (in the playoffs),” Laney said. “And then this year we’re in a series. And so last year didn’t go as planned, but that’s where we were. And so I think we’ve come out with the same intensity that we came out last year, but With a little more, we’ll be in really good shape. And we’ll have another game to either keep making or learn from.”
source: Entrendz Showbizz Sportz