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Betnijah Laney supplies the heroics as Liberty pushes for playoff berth

Seattle Storm v New York Liberty Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Betnijah Laney won the WNBA’s Most Improved Player last season. She has to be a candidate this season as well. With Natasha Howard out most of the season with a strained MCL and Sabrina Ionescu admittedly still recovering from last year’s ankle sprain, Laney has led the Liberty all season long.

And she did it again on Wednesday vs. the Seattle Storm. With 17.6 seconds left and the score tied, Laney launched a jumper from 17 feet away, banking it home. Sami Whitcomb, who won two WNBA championships with the Storm, added two free throws and the Liberty won, preserving their playoff hopes and ending a three-game losing streak.

Joe Tsai, Liberty co-owner and fan, tweeted his approval shortly after the game.

Laney finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Storm, the defending WNBA champs, were admittedly without their two biggest stars, Olympians Sue Bird and Breonna Stewart, but still were up by 15 late in the third when the Liberty began a comeback going on a 13-0 run, pushed along by Laney, Howard and Allen.

Allen, who played for the Australian national team in Tokyo, also finished with 17, including five three’s and Ionescu scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out five assists.

The Liberty are now 11-12 and in seventh place. Eight teams make the WNBA playoffs and as Newsday noted, it’s a bit of musical chairs with six teams within three games of each other for the final four playoff passes. New York has one advantage. Wednesday was the first game in a five-game home stretch. The Storm is back at Barclays Center Friday but this time Bird and Stewart will be playing. Jewell Loyd, the third Olympic gold medal winner on the Storm, finished with a career-high 35 points.

Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins talked to the team prior to the game calling “a must-win.”

“I think it says a lot, when you’re down by a 15-point deficit, that you don’t rush and do it point-by-point,” said Allen. “I think we just took the game each play phase at a time.”

As for Laney, she said she was ready for her late-game heroics.

“Before, I was just waiting. I wanted to make sure I was in position if she needed me. Sabrina has taken a lot of late shots and she’s made them... and then time was ticking, and it had to go up.”