High pressure moments test you and your resolve. The temperature rises and things become more difficult. If you’re able to withstand the heat and display some grit, you can put yourself in 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 came into the night tied in the standings and tied in the season series. New York started strong and withstood a late Dream rally to come away with a critical 80-70 victory on Friday night in Atlanta.
The Dream have the athleticism advantage, so in pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned she wanted to shrink the floor in order to make it tougher for the Dream to drive to the basket. By crowding the paint, the Liberty could neutralize Atlanta’s athleticism and keep them on the perimeter. The Liberty’s defense turned it up a notch after halftime as they shut Atlanta out for the first five and a half minutes. That defense helped the Liberty push the lead all the up to 22 and it looked like they were on the way to an easy W.
If you know the Liberty, you know that they don’t make things easy. The team rushed shots on offense, which allowed the Dream to get the crowd back into the game and shave the lead down to as close as seven points midway through the fourth, 74-67. However, NY’s grittiness shined through as they forced Atlanta into three turnovers in their next four possessions and three points over the final 6:09 of the game. Sandy Brondello spoke about the fourth quarter and said:
“I thought we got into taking too many quick shots and not moving the ball. We’re playing straight into their hands because they’re getting out and running. So I said “Just move the ball and if you’ve got a layup, take it, but be aggressive.” When you got a lead, you get a little tighter, and I was telling them “Relax, relax! Just move the ball, let’s sprint back.” We found a way. We could’ve executed better of course, it wasn’t perfect, but we had a big enough lead that we could sustain it.”
Last time the Liberty played Atlanta, they were without Rebecca Allen, Betnijah Laney, and Crystal Dangerfield. Laney and Allen were out with injury while Dangerfield was not on the roster due to some roster maneuvering related to the salary cap. All three took turns guarding rookie sensation, Rhyne Howard. Howard only went 3-14 from the field as the Liberty contested just about all of her shots. Most importantly, she only took one field goal attempt inside of the restricted area. Keeping her out of the paint and forcing her into tough jumpers is a successful outcome for the Liberty, and with Atlanta being so shorthanded, even more pressure will be on their All Star rookie.
The Liberty won the points in the paint battle, 40-32 as they attacked the paint from the start of the game and all the way through the night.
The Liberty are a jump shooting team by heart, but they only made four three pointers on the night. It’s a change in form, and a welcome one considering how volatile jump shooting can be. If they can leverage that threat from deep into paint touches, their offense has the potential to become elite.
Queen Bee shines
Gradually, Betnijah Laney has been returning to form. She’s been on the sidelines for most of the season as she recovered from knee surgery. Each game out, she’s looked more and more like herself and was re-inserted back into the starting five in place of Rebecca Allen. Brondello noted that Laney’s presence, ballhandling, and scoring open things up for the Liberty’s first five in exciting ways.
In postgame, we asked Laney what worked well for her this evening, and she said:
“Just trying to stay aggressive. Scoring at different levels, whether it was at the basket, free throw line, threes, short jumpers. Just trying to find my rhythm, and I think I’m beginning to find that game by game. Just doing any and everything I can to help my team.”
Sisterhood has been a theme for the Liberty players all season long, and Laney spoke about that as well:
.@GeoffJMags asked Laney about NYL's identity and the answer was fascinating:— Jackie Powell (she/her) (@ClassicJpow) August 13, 2022
"Having a sisterhood, having grit, staying confident and just trying to be together and I think that's is what we've shown that the last few games and I think that's exhibited through all of our play."
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Star players set the course for your organization. Your stars have to stick together, be there for their teammates, and be dedicated to uplifting every one around them. When the stars care, buy in, and create that positive environment, everything around them improves for the better.
Always on time
Crystal Dangerfield has been such a positive force for the Liberty as the starting point guard. She gives the team more athleticism out of the backcourt, a plus defender, someone that can get downhill, and someone that can push the pace. She did everything and more for the Liberty tonight as her 18 points and six assists were game highs.
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 didn’t play much in Dallas. It’s more about the game, what’s coming up, what we need, but this is a game we know we need you vs. Atlanta.””
Having Dangerfield’s ball handling has taken so much pressure off of Sabrina Ionescu and allowed her to play off the ball. When she’s able to do that, she’s able to put even more pressure on defenders and use her wonderful court vision to hit 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 36 minutes. That stay ready mindset is present from player one to player 12 on the roster, and when you have a hungry team that’s eager to succeed and play hard, you know you’re going to be getting their best every night.
As it stands right now, the Liberty are in the eighth seed. The Phoenix Mercury are in seventh place after their win against the Dallas Wings while the Minnesota Lynx fell to tenth following their loss to the Seattle Storm. That game for the Lynx was Sylvia Fowles’ last home game in Minnesota and she was treated to a well deserved postgame ceremony following the game.
For the Liberty, the math is real, real simple. Win and you’re in.
We’re wrapping the regular season up on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center. Tip after 2:00 p.m. ET.