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Liberty drop second game of season in OT thriller to Atlanta Dream, 90-87

Atlanta Dream v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Coming off of a near-week’s rest, the New York Liberty faced off against the Atlanta Dream in a matinee matchup at the Barclays Center. New York was unable to pull out the win despite rookie Micheala Onyewere’s career-high 29 points and Betnijah Laney’s 20, extending his 20+ point streak to seven games to begin the season, two short of the WNBA record.

Courtney Williams had 31 points and seven assists for Atlanta and nailed a game-winning three pointer with just under 1.5 seconds remaining in overtime to propel the Dream to victory. The Liberty are now 5-2, second in the East while the Dream is now 4-2.

Williams exposed the Liberty all game, consistently scoring in the pick-and-roll with patented pull-up jump shots. The Liberty like to play drop coverage and “let the percentages play out”, as coach Walt Hopkins said postgame. Hopkins explained to me earlier in the year that the LIberty would allow opponents to take off-the-dribble jump shots since they did not consider they high-percentage looks.

New York opened the game going under ball-screens against Williams, as was the game plan per Hopkins. New York knew that Williams likes that long mid-range area — 38 percent of her attempted field goals last year came from 15-19 feet out — and planned to meet her at her spot. The execution was poor, however, as is shown in the clips below.

Here’s what veteran guard Sami Whitcomb had to say postgame about the defensive coverage on Williams:

“We know what she likes to do. She likes to take the pull up. So we wanted to go under and meet her on the pull up. Obviously, she was knocking those down. So then we started chasing over and I thought we did a really good job of then contesting them from behind and made it really tough for her. And I thought that was I thought we did a much better job than with that. But I think you play the percentages more than I think trial and error.”

Micheala Onyewere, the Libs’ rookie out o UCLA, not only posted a new career-high of 29 points on Saturday, but she had broken her previous high of 18 points before halftime! A late-second quarter triple gave the rookie 21 points heading into the break after doing the majority of her heavy lifting in the second quarter, with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-4 from behind the arc) in the frame.

Onyewere shot 10-of-22 from the field and 6-of-14 from deep on the night, en route to her most impressive game yet as a pro.

Postgame, Hopkins chose to praise her often-underrated defense:

“Yeah, I mean, [Michaela] really had a bounce in her step on both ends. I can’t believe she only had five rebounds. I mean, I felt like she was everywhere. I know last game, she led us in deflections in a really small amount of minutes. She led us in sprints, you know, we keep track of how many full sprints we get in a given game. And she led us in that too, and in a short amount of time.

“So [Micheala’s] energy is phenomenal, she has a bounce in your step, and as she continues to grow in terms of her confidence, you know, she’s she is and he’s going to continue to be a heck of a player.”

Here’s what Whitcomb had to say about Onyehwere’s standout performance:

“Yeah, it’s special to see her do that. It’s something that I feel like, you know, I see her every day and stuff so it’s not surprising as much for us. She works really hard. She’s worked really hard on her shooting, and we’ve got really great players around her that did a really good job of finding her but she continues to develop so I’m really happy for her, but I’m not super surprised.”

Sabrina Ionescu had an uncharacteristically difficult game against the Dream. Atlanta consistently trapped both her and Laney, forcing Ionescu to give up the ball far away from the basket. Sometimes she did try to force passes, and it didn’t go well...

She was held to six points on 2-of-11 shooting, with 2-of-7 shooting from deep.

Laney was also met with traps, turning the ball over seven times to go along with her 11 assists. Postgame, she told me that “they [the Dream] did a good job of, you know, putting pressure on us. But you know, even with that, we were right there.”

Despite her high turnover count, it was another strong showing from Laney, who has now extended her 20+ point streak to seven games — every game so far this season. She didn’t score her twentieth points until the overtime period, but was still able to get it done.

Here are the game highlights:

Paid attendance was 1,235. Although the same state rules on arena capacity apply to Liberty games at Barclays, attendance at their first two games under those rules has been hurt by a rescheduling of one game due to a conflict with the NBA playoffs and having Saturday’s game come in the middle of Memorial Day weekend.

The LIberty will face off next against the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday, June 3rd at the Barclays Center at 7pm. The game will be broadcast on the YES Network.