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Liberty lose seventh straight in last second, are game out of playoffs with two to go

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

It was must-win game and the Liberty didn’t.

With six-tenths of a second left, Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray reached out with her left hand and blocked Sabrina’s jump shot without fouling, Gray’s teammate Marina Mabrey grabbed the ball and the Liberty went down to the Wings, 77-76, their seventh straight loss.

Here’s the play which also got the Wings in the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2018...

With that, the Liberty went a half game back of the eighth place Washington Mystics with two games to go, an away game vs. the league-leading Connecticut Sun — currently on a 12-game winning streak — at the Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday, then their final game against Washington at home on Friday. To be assured the eighth and last playoff spot, the Libs will have to win out. The Liberty’s situation worsened on Sunday when the Mystics beat the Minnesota Lynx to go a game up.

Post-game, it was a bitter scene in the Liberty locker room...

Again, it was a fourth quarter collapse that did in New York. Just as they have on several occasions late in the season, the Liberty offense went into hibernation mode late in the game, getting outscored, 21-10, in the final stanza.

Liberty coach Walt Hopkins once again tried to take some comfort from the team’s effort, giving his young team some confidence, but that’s become increasingly difficult. Since the return from the WNBA’s Olympic break, his team is 1-8.

“It’s frustrating to be a broken record and you keep saying that, you know there’s growth, and that there’s, there’s a lot of good but man there was a lot good, and you know this stuff does pay off, just unfortunately takes time,” said Hopkins.

“I’m urging them to continue to celebrate the growth, and all the corners that they’re turning out there was a point in that season where we would have lost this game by a lot more than that.”

With 9:19 left in the game, the Liberty were up by 13 and looked like they would cruise to a win, but the Wings stepped up. Here’s an accounting of how things went wrong from Swish Appeal, SB Nation’s women’s basketball site.

Kayla Thornton made a three to cut it to 10, sparking a 13-0 run that featured 10 points from her and tied the game. Marina Mabrey made a triple that cut it to four with 6:50 to go and Thornton followed with back-to-back scores at 5:41 and 5:01.

A Natasha Howard layup off a nice assist from Ionescu put the Liberty back up by two with 3:01 remaining, but Mabrey made free throws to tie the game at 2:45. Ionescu free throws at 2:17 gave New York another two-point lead, but then Satou Sabally did her thing. Howard barely got a layup up in traffic with 29.4 ticks remaining, cutting the Wings lead to one. Arike Ogunbowale then missed a trey for Dallas that would have made it a two-possession game with 8.4 seconds to go. Howard hauled in the rebound and New York’s final possession began on the Wings’ side after a timeout with 5.7 seconds to play.

The Liberty got good games from their four best players. Betnijah Laney who had a rare off game in Seattle last weekend, finished with 19 points and six assists, Ionescu had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Howard, 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sami Whitcomb (4-of-7 from beyond the arc) posted 12 points in her third game back from a tough ankle injury. In fact, the Liberty’s medical report was near pristine going into the game, with only Jocelyn Willoughby, out for the season with an Achilles injury, unavailable.

The game was the first since Joe and Clara Wu Tsai arranged for the Liberty team and travel party to spend Labor Day Weekend at a toney resort in Napa Valley. For a while, it looked like the gesture would pay off with a win, but no such luck.