High-pressure moments will test you and your resolve. The temperature rises and things get harder. If you’re able to take the heat and show some courage, you can put yourself in a great position to succeed. And once you’re in position, you can control your own destiny.
The New York Liberty opened this two-game set with the Atlanta Dream with a chance to dramatically improve their playoff odds. Both teams went into the night tied on points in the table and in the relay series. New York started strong and withstood a late Dream rally to walk away with a decisive 80-70 win in Atlanta on Friday night.
The Dream has the athletic advantage, so Sandy Brondello mentioned in pregame that she wanted to make the bottom smaller to make it harder for the Dream to drive to the basket. By trapping color, the Liberty was able to neutralize Atlanta’s athletics and keep them on the edge. The Liberty’s defense turned up again after halftime, knocking out Atlanta for the first five and a half minutes. That defense helped the Liberty take the lead to 22 and looked like they were headed for an easy W.
Anyone who knows the Liberty knows that they don’t take it easy on themselves. The team fired up offense, allowing the Dream to get the crowd back in the game and cut the lead to as few as seven points midway through the fourth, 74-67. However, NY’s toughness shone through as they forced Atlanta to three turnovers and three points over the final 6:09 of the game in their next four possessions. Sandy Brondello spoke about the fourth quarter and said:
“I thought we took too many quick shots and didn’t move the ball. We’re playing right into their hands because they come out and run. So I said, “Just move the ball and when you have a layup, take it, but be aggressive.” When you get a lead you tighten a little bit and I told them, ‘Relax, relax! Just move the ball, let’s sprint back.” We found a way. Of course we could have done better, it wasn’t perfect, but we had an advantage big enough to hold it.”
The last time the Liberty played Atlanta they were without Rebecca Allen, Betnijah Laney and Crystal Dangerfield. Laney and Allen were injured while Dangerfield was off the roster due to some salary cap-related roster maneuvers. All three took turns guarding rookie sensation Rhyne Howard. Howard was only 3-14 off the field as the Liberty denied almost all of their shots. Most importantly, she only made one field goal attempt inside the restricted area. Keeping them out of color and forcing them to jump hard is a successful result for the Liberty, and with Atlanta being so shorthanded there will be even more pressure on their all-star rookie.
The Liberty won the points in the Color Battle, 40-32 as they attacked the Color from the start of the game and throughout the night.
The Liberty are essentially a jump shooter team, but they only managed four three-pointers that night. It’s a change in form, and a welcome one considering how volatile jump shooting can be. If they can use this threat deep in paint touches, their offense has the potential to become elite.
Queen bee is beaming
Gradually Betnijah Laney returned to old form. She was on the sidelines for most of the season while recovering from knee surgery. Looking more and more like herself with every game, she was reinserted into the starting XI in place of Rebecca Allen. Brondello noted that Laney’s presence, ball handling and goals open up the Liberty’s front five in an exciting way.
After the game we asked Laney what worked well for her tonight and she said:
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive. Scoring at different levels, whether basket, free-throw line, three-pointer, short jumper. I’m just trying to find my rhythm and I think I’m starting to find that game after game. I’m just doing everything I can to help my team.”
Sisterhood has been a theme for the Liberty players all season, and Laney also spoke about it:
.@GeoffJMags asked Laney about NYL’s identity and the answer was intriguing:
“Having a sisterhood, having courage, staying confident and just trying to be together and I think we’ve shown that in the last couple of games and I think that shows in all of our game.”
— Jackie Powell (she/they) (@ClassicJpow) August 13, 2022
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Star players set the tone for your organization. Their stars need to stick together, be there for their teammates and be committed to encouraging everyone around them. When the stars care about them, get involved and create that positive environment, everything around them improves for the better.
Always on time
Crystal Dangerfield has been such a positive force on the Liberty as a launch point guard. She gives the team more athletics from the backcourt, a plus defender, someone who can go downhill and someone who can pick up the pace. She did everything and more for the Liberty tonight as her 18 points and six assists were game bests.
Sandy Brondello was asked about Dangerfield’s game tonight and said:
“She did everything great for us. I spoke to her earlier today and said, ‘Hey, you haven’t played much in Dallas. It’s more about the game, what’s coming, what we need, but this is a game we know we need against Atlanta.”
Dangerfield’s ball handling took so much pressure off Sabrina Ionescu and allowed her to play the ball. When she’s able to do that, she can put even more pressure on defenders and use her wonderful view of the pitch to find her teammates in perfect scoring position. As Brondello mentioned, Dangerfield didn’t get much run in Dallas, but she was ready to step in and played a team high for 36 minutes. That preparedness mentality is present in the roster from player one through player 12, and when you have a hungry team that’s eager to succeed and play hard, you know you’ll be giving your best every night.
As it stands now, the Liberty are in the eighth seed. The Phoenix Mercury sit in seventh place after beating the Dallas Wings, while the Minnesota Lynx fell to tenth after losing to the Seattle Storm. This game for the Lynx was Sylvia Fowles’ last home game in Minnesota, and she was treated to a well-deserved post-game ceremony after the game.
For the Liberty, the math is real, very simple. Win and you’re in.
We wrap up the regular season at the Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon. Tip after 2:00 p.m. ET.