New York, NY -- An impressive winning streak, which was almost erased by the Chicago Sky, was extended by the New York Liberty on Friday night at Madison Square Garden 80-79.
The Sky came out firing early in the first. Elena Delle Donne started things off with back-to-back threes to take an early 6-0 lead.
The Liberty looked solid on the boards, per usual, it was Carolyn Swords who recovered a rejected Tina Charles layup, giving New York its first points.
Chicago cruised through most of the first quarter with the lead. The duo of Delle Donne and Cappie Pondexter was almost unstoppable with Delle Donne 2-for-3 from outside the arc and Pondexter 3-for-5 in the paint.
However, the string of fouls called on the Sky's Jessica Breland and Imani Boyette helped the Liberty climb back.
Late in the first, Breland was called for a shooting foul on Charles, sending Charles to the line for two. Just like the league's leading scorer should do, she banked both shots to lift the Liberty to its first lead of the game.
Boyette then fouled Brittany Boyd to warrant a sequel. Boyd, sinking both free throws, gave her team the 20-16 advantage with just over one minute left in the opening quarter.
Laimbeer pulled his starters and put the bench on the court.
Amanda Zahui B continued to build the lead for New York. Following a steal off a bad pass by Allie Quigley, Zahui B got the ball off to Boyd, charged down court, and got the ball back, putting up the layup and one.
Breland drew her second personal foul of the game, and Zahui B put the Liberty up 23-16.
She wasn't done there; just before the end of the first quarter, she nailed a shot from the top of the key to go up by 10.
"I'm learning to play our bench more to give us more time. I thought our bench played phenomenal in the first half," said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer. "We were talking to them about getting more opportunities, especially collectively as a group. They went out there today and played a fine basketball game."
The Liberty started the second with its bench, and the Sky continued to rally.
Courtney Vandersloot shot off a three to inch closer, down 26-21. Midway through the quarter, Delle Donne kept her team within five with two free throws.
It wasn't enough to stop the depth that has been evolving on the Liberty's bench. Rebecca Allen put up her first points of the game with a deep three from the left wing and Kiah Stokes wasn't missing, going 3-for-4 in field goals.
In just her second season, Allen signed with the Liberty as a free agent on Feb. 2, 2015, and was re-signed on Tuesday, June 21.
"I've really just tried to gain confidence again from coming back from the injury because I've always had a good outside shot, but it's also trying to get to the basket as well," said Allen.
The starters came back in at the six-minute mark, and Swin Cash took over. Her three-point shot and off-balanced jumper extended the Liberty's lead to 46-38.
Sugar Rodgers capped off the half going deep from outside the right wing, sending the Liberty to halftime up 51-40.
It was the same story for the Liberty as always, complete dominance in the paint, outscoring the Sky 24-4 by the end of the second quarter.
In the third, Pondexter and Delle Donne were even outscoring Charles. At one point, both had 18 points to Charles' 17. Pondexter's 18th point was a jump shot that pulled the Sky within four; it's closest to the lead since losing it in the first quarter.
Pondexter went on to score 20 points, second on the team to Delle Donne's stunning 31 and Charles led the Liberty with 21.
Both teams went cold for almost two minutes in the middle of the third, but a Boyette layup, followed by a hook shot by Charles, brought both teams out of it.
With one minute left in the third, Delle Donne made both free throws, helping her team to a one-possession deficit, down just 60-57.
The boost in confidence Laimbeer has in his bench was apparent in Friday night's game, starting off the fourth quarter with the majority of his bench on the floor.
Allen took advantage of the opportunity and registered her second three of the game. She scored her career-high of 8 points.
"It's nice this is my first game to feel good out there and confident," said Allen.
Delle Donne led Chicago to a threatening finish with just under four minutes left in regulation.
"She's a great player. She's an Olympian. Sometimes you're gonna have games like that," said Laimbeer. "Hopefully, you can weather the storm and make enough plays on the offensive end to outscore them and tonight we were fortunate enough to do that."
The Liberty had a chance to ignite the crowd at Madison Square Garden, but a shot clock violation denied Cash of her netted three.
It turned into a matchup of Delle Donne versus Tina Charles. Each team was waiting for their key players to make some magic.
Delle Donne did it with a jump shot to bring her team within one making it 78-77.
A strong defensive effort halted any chance of resurgence by the Sky, who turned over the ball on a shot clock violation with 53 seconds to go.
Rodgers took advantage with an alley oop layup shot for her 13th and final point of the game.
Following another Delle Donne jump shot, making it 80-79 Liberty, New York ran the clock down to 2.2 seconds, but could not build on its lead. Charles missed a driving layup up the middle, so now it was up to Delle Donne.
After Chicago called timeout, the play went to none other than Delle Donne herself, but her buzzer-beating shot was off the rim.
"She did everything she needed to do to put her team in the best position to win the game, she just didn't make the last shot, but you have to credit that to Kiah Stokes," said Charles.
The Liberty has now won six in a row and is 10-4 for the first time since 2001.
"I think right now we're just in good space, and we're just displaying everything that we're learning. It's the process of winning for New York Liberty and just trying to keep developing our identity out there," said Charles.