For the first time since the last game the Dream played against the Liberty, Michael Cooper made his return appearance during Sunday’s home game against New York. Unfortunately, the result in the standings was the same – a loss against the Liberty, the third loss against New York in the four games of the regular season. If the Liberty hangs on to the fourth place spot when the regular season ends, it sets up a potential Atlanta versus New York first round match-up.
With regard to the game itself, I'll turn you over to Kris Willis at SB Nation sister site Peachtree Hoops and his excellent writeup. What follows are some notes and full comments from both Bill Laimbeer for New York and Karleen Thompson for Atlanta.
* New York dominated Atlanta on the boards. The Dream were held to a season-low 26 rebounds and a season-low five offensive rebounds.
* Celine Dumerc got her third consecutive start for the Dream. She got nine assists – a season record – to just four turnovers. However, she is shooting 0-for-11 during her three starts.
* Angel McCoughtry scored 28 points on 50 percent shooting (8-for-16) with five steals. Of those points, 17 points came in the fourth quarter.
* A key to the Liberty victory? Turnovers. New York had 14 turnovers in the first half…but only three in the second half.
* Tina Charles had 29 points and 14 rebounds. Anna Cruz scored a career high 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting.
New York head coach Bill Laimbeer on the key to the Liberty late run in the third quarter: "We didn’t turn it over. We were the same way in the first half and the second half defensive-wise, except that in the first half we just threw the ball all over the gym. And it was embarrassing. We thought we’d have an eight point lead in the first half if we didn’t turn it over, so that was the difference – we just didn’t turn it over in the second half."
Laimbeer on the Liberty’s success from 3-point range against the Dream: "We’re not a very good team some days. We struggle. We’re one of the worst in the league, field goal percentage-wise. But today, we talked before the game – if we come out and have a good game where we can shoot, our defense can carry us a long way. And today was one of those. Alex was struggling, made a couple of early shots. Cruz made like four or five in a row to give us an early boost. Okay, we’ll take it."
Laimbeer on the Liberty’s beating the Dream three out of four times this year: (And trust me, he knows: I thought it was two out of four and he got a great laugh out of correcting me!) "We match up well with them. We knew that last year, we were 2-and-2 last year. Tina’s a good weapon for us and Cappie. We play solid defense. We can beat anybody in this league, we just need to get a few more wins. We need a road win, we’re going to Washington – big game."
Michael Cooper returns to Atlanta's bench
The Atlanta Dream did get some good news on Sunday as head coach Michael Cooper returned to the sideline after leaving the team to seek treatment for early stage tongue cancer.
Dream assistant coach Karleen Thompson’s opening statement: "We wanted to come out with more energy that we did, we just get a rhythm. We went up, and we just couldn’t open it up for us. New York played a very good game, a very physical game. We just have to regroup and come back. We have a tough road trip coming up and we have to focus on that and get some wins."
Thompson on Dumerc’s third start in a row: Will she take over that role? "Cee Cee has done a good job for us in her starts. This team has all kinds of talent on it, and in different games maybe different people step up. She’s a solid point guard, and we’re not just going to quit on her because we didn’t get a win. It’s a team win just like it’s a team loss. We just have to get out there, get some practice in and get a win on the road."
Thompson on the Dream’s rebounding against the Liberty: "That’s what really stuck out to the whole team today. Rebounding is the key to our offense. We get out and run, we usually own the boards. Whenever teams crash offensively, it slows our run down and forces it into a half-court game. So we definitely need to pick it up on that aspect."
Thompson on Tina Charles’s performance: "She’s an All-Star. She was on tonight. She’s just a great player. Once a player like that gets started, it’s hard to stop the bleeding."
Thompson on the third-quarter Liberty run: "We just didn’t come together and play defense the way we should and we just kind of fell apart. Sometimes we do that after halftime. We just have to put forty minutes together on the court. Playoffs are coming, but we still have all these other games, so we just want to focus on that, take each game at a time, and try to put forty minutes together."
Thompson on Coach Michael Cooper’s activity level with the Dream – will he be traveling with them? "Yeah. He’s here. He’s doing well. He can’t yell as much as he probably wants to. You have to be very distinctive. He can tell me what to say, but when he wants to say something, sometimes it’s hard for him to get it out right there at that moment. But he’s here. He’ll be here (for the four-game road trip)."
Thompson on possible complacency now that the Dream have clinched a playoff spot: "I think it’s just mental focus. Just continuing to practice hard and put together forty minutes of Dream basketball which starts with our defense and go from there. We are definitely not complacent. We’re not complacent with just making the playoffs, we’re not complacent with just winning a conference title. We have a goal that’s been a goal from day one. Coop has always said it, he says it every day, and even when he wasn’t here he was saying it every day. That’s what we’re focused it."
Thompson on Tiffany Hayes holding Cappie Pondexter to just one field goal attempt in the first half: "Tiffany has been just awesome for us defensively. I think she jump starts our defense. She has a tough role and she’s also been handling it on the offensive end. She’s definitely going to be the one that we put on key players to limit them offensively."
Sancho Lyttle on her performance: "It’s a job that the coach told me I have to do every game. Sometimes I accomplish more than enough and sometimes I don’t and today was one of those games. We just have to come out more aggressive and box people out because that’s what people are going to do to us."
Lyttle on the Dream’s slump – are they out of sync? "I say it’s the curse of the second half. In the six years that I’ve been here, every time it’s the second half; we play this way until the playoffs. I don’t know why. I hope to live to see the day that we don’t. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we’ve lost focus a little bit, maybe we’re playing like we know too much or something. I’m not too sure."
Tina Charles on the importance of the win: "It was a must win as far as a playoff berth. Atlanta already has a playoff berth, we don’t. So we just came in here with great intensity and energy. We were doing all the little things. We only had three turnovers in the second half, and that was the biggest thing I think. So it was just a great team win, everybody was knocking down shots and it was great."
Charles on her performance: "I was just being aggressive. Just knowing what my role is on this team and just really wanting to win."