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Katie Smith's defense makes the difference in New York Liberty's win over Atlanta Dream

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Veteran guard Katie Smith was a key factor in the New York Liberty's win over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday.

Katie Smith being interviewed in the locker room after the New York Liberty's win over the Atlanta Dream.
Katie Smith being interviewed in the locker room after the New York Liberty's win over the Atlanta Dream.
Photo by Ray Floriani.

NEWARK, NJ - The line in the boxscore read five points on 1-for-6 shooting from the floor for veteran guard Katie Smith after yesterday's game - in NBA/WNBA efficiency terms the performances was a two.

Meanwhile in the New York Liberty locker room Katie Smith sat, her right knee iced. The left knee with two notable bruises. Undoubtedly 'badges of honor' signifying her hustle and willingness to go 100 percent.

For those of us immersed in the study of tempo free and analytics, there is no formula that can truly measure Smith's value in helping the New York Liberty defeat the Atlanta Dream 76-67 at the Prudential Center on Sunday. Setting numbers and figures aside, the performance of Smith was a major reason for the Liberty's third win of the season, which avenged a lopsided 75-56 loss in Atlanta on Friday and gave the Dream their first setback of the season.

In the absence of Essence Carson, who suffered a season ending knee injury on Friday the Liberty had several contributors. Cappie Pondexter had a strong fourth quarter en route to a 17 points, 6 assists performance. Plenette Pierson (17 points) and Kara Braxton (14) were others who came up big for New York. Alex Montgomery and Leilani Mitchell also drew praise from coach Bill Laimbeer for their effort. The tone though, was set through Smith with her outstanding defense.

Assigned to the Dream's Angel McCoughtry, Smith enthusiastically accepted the challenge. McCoughtry finished with 15 points but shot 4-for-16 from the floor and found the going tough the entire afternoon.

"We were locked in today," Smith said in reference to the reversal of fortune, or misfortune, of less than 48 hours prior. "Our game plan did not change one bit. We defended better, rebounded better and had less turnovers."

Smith was told, from an observer's standpoint, McCoughtry was visibly frustrated. As the game progressed, the Dream star complained to officials when shots didn't fall and called out her teammates on more than one instance.

"I hope so," Smith said with a chuckle regarding the frustration assessment. "I can tell you on Friday night, their entire team had us frustrated."

The key to keeping McCoughtry in check was fundamental.

"I wanted to make her work for everything," Smith said. "Keep her in front, make he shoot the jumper and contest the shots. Box out, she can flat out jump out of the room and out jump any of us."

That Smith would come up with such a significant defensive effort was no surprise to Laimbeer.

"(Smith's) defense set the tone," he said. "A lot of our other players followed suit taking the example she set. One of the reasons I signed Katie was because of her defense - figured if the younger players could see someone in her thirties defend like that, they would do the same."

Smith has prided herself on defense throughout her 14 year WNBA career. She played at a strong program, Ohio State, but admitted the commitment to defense started following college.

"We were taught to defend all positions," Smith said. "The wings, guard, posts, different situations."

Gradually, she came to love the defensive part of the game.

"Defense is challenging, not glamorous," she admitted. "It is a determination and based on desire."

Those last two attributes were largely responsible for the Liberty victory on this afternoon . And they can point to Smith for setting the tone and example.

For more on the game and the Liberty's season, check out our storystream.