WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – In a season of so many moral victories in the name of frustrating losses, New York Liberty coach Katie Smith had her fill.
She let it all out after the Atlanta Dream snapped their 12-game losing streak and earned a second road victory at the Liberty’s expense on Friday night at Westchester County Center with a 90-87 victory to go 6-22 for the season. The Liberty (9-19) now have lost 12 of the 14 games to the point they will likely be bystanders in the playoffs and participants in the lottery.
“I was disappointed in the 2nd half,” Smith said. “Our defense gave up points. We allowed too many rebounds. We need to stop fouling at the wrong time.”
With the Liberty holding on to an 87-84 lead with 32 seconds to go, they committed a loose ball foul that set up Monique Billings (11 points) to hit two free throws, cutting the Dream’s deficit to 87-86. Then, former UConn standout Renee Montgomery drove to the basket and made a layup to give the Dream an 88-87 lead, finishing her night with 18 points.
Bria Hartley (team-high 17 points) had a good angle to make a layup, but Alex Bentley, subbing for Montgomery, blocked it to make this the play of the game.
“Bri could have had a better shot,” Smith said.
Liberty sharpshooter Rebecca Allen had a nice look, but she missed with seven seconds to go.
“Katie (Smith) drew up a play for me to hit that shot,” Allen said after scoring 11 points. “It didn’t happen.”
Smith explained about the play she drew up in the Liberty’s second to last timeout of the game.
“Becky got a good, decent look in the corner with her length,” she said. “We thought she would make it.”
Tiffany Hayes put the game away by shooting two free throws to give the Dream a 90-87 lead, completing her night with game-high 19 points.
Allen tried to make amends for a missed shot by making a 3-pointer in forcing overtime, but she missed.
The second-year Liberty head coach was asked if Asia Durr’s absence for the sixth straight game played a role in the Liberty’s third quarter struggles along with down the stretch lately.
“She’s a pretty good scorer,” she said of her rookie point guard out with a groin strain. “She knocks down 3s. She can finish. We don’t have playmakers or scorers.”
There’s no word on when Durr will come back.
Momentum shifted after the Liberty took a 59-55 lead over the Dream with 5:57 remaining in the third quarter. It first started when the Dream tied it at 59 on Billings’ layup and Hayes’ jumper. Then after the Liberty took a 62-59 lead, the Dream went on a 14-0 run to take a 73-62 lead.
The Liberty staged a rally after trailing 83-79 with 2:56 to go in the fourth quarter.
With Boyd being entrusted in crunch time while Kia Nurse watched her from the bench, she validated Smith’s decision by hitting two jump shots that tied the game at 83.
“Boyd played multiple roles this season from being a starter and a role player,” Smith said of her development this season. “She creates shots. She makes others better.”
Boyd appreciated her coach’s faith in her.
“When my number is called, I gotta be ready to play,” she said after scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds in 18 minutes. “My teammates do a good job in believing in me and giving confidence.”
After missing a couple of hook shots, Tina Charles (15 points and eight rebounds) went to the line to hit two free throws from a loose ball foul, and she made both to give the Liberty an 85-84 lead, and she hit another shot to extend their lead to 87-84 after Boyd forced a turnover. It would be the last lead the Liberty had for the night.
Overall, the Dream featured five players scoring in double figures, including Jessica Breland scoring 11 points while leading the team with 12 rebounds for her 20th career double-double and Brittney Sykes scoring 17 points.
With six games remaining this season, what lessons can the Liberty apply for the rest of the season and next season?
“We need to box out, guard one another, stop fouling and score better,” Smith said. “If we did those things right, we would be better. The elite teams such as Washington, Connecticut and Las Vegas do those things.”
New York Liberty head to Washington D.C. for an afternoon tilt against the WNBA’s best Washington Mystics (20-8) on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. on NBATV.