When the New York Liberty (6-3) look good, they look great, but each of their losses this season has at least made us wonder about pressing the panic button, though it’s likely too early to do that.
Their third loss of the season came Tuesday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Without Sabrina Ionescu (hamstring, day-to-day), they fell to the 3-5 Atlanta Dream 86-79.
Ionescu’s replacement in the starting lineup, Marine Johannès was nearly the hero with a three that cut it to 76-70, a three that cut it to 80-75 and a foot-on-the-arc two that cut it to 82-79 with 1:04 remaining.
Johannès hurt her own cause when she couldn’t slow her momentum while running after a loose ball and fouled Allisha Gray near mid-court with just three seconds left on the shot clock for the Dream and 42 seconds remaining overall. Barring a miracle, Atlanta wasn’t going to score there and the Liberty would have been in great shape down just three. Instead, Gray went 2-of-2 at the stripe to make it 84-79.
I say “hurt her own cause” because you just knew that Johannès was going to take another three and most likely make it. Like no biggie, she’ll still save the day even though she made it a little harder on herself.
Indeed, Johannès took a three on the next possession ... and it nearly went down, instead going in and out at 37 seconds remaining.
Two more Gray free throws made it 86-79 before Breanna Stewart and Betnijah Laney missed on the Liberty’s final two shot attempts. Cheyenne Parker pulled down the rebound off Laney’s miss with 18 ticks to go and New York did not foul after that.
The Dream deserve a lot of credit for the way they took control in the fourth quarter. They led by as much as 11.
With Aari McDonald and Danielle Robinson both out, rookie Haley Jones made her second start of the season for Atlanta. She handled point guard duties, which is something she can do as a point-forward.
Forty-eight seconds into the third, Courtney Vandersloot blocked an H. Jones pass and took it the other way for a pick-6 layup. It was a “welcome to the league” from one of the best point guards to ever do it and epitomized what had been a less-than-stellar performance from H. Jones to that point.
But the former Stanford Cardinal would have the last laugh.
H. Jones wasn’t a big 3-point shooter in college, but she always played with confidence. Away from her Maples Pavilion stomping grounds you could tell she was not keen on firing away, but had to as the third quarter was winding down and made a triple at the buzzer that tied the game at 60.
That make changed everything for her. She made a three early in the fourth to make it 63-62 Atlanta, converted on a 3-point play that made it 68-63 and went 2-of-2 at the stripe to make it 78-72 with 2:29 remaining. A Monique Billings pick-6 that made it 65-62 was also key for the Dream in the fourth, as were two second-chance layups from Billings that made it 70-63 and 76-65, respectively.
Laney stole the ball from Rhyne Howard when Howard was getting instructions from Dream head coach Tanisha Wright and was fouled in transition before making two freebies that cut it to 80-77 with 1:19 remaining. But a travel by Billings wasn’t called on the ensuing possession and Billings made two free throws to push ATL’s lead back to five.
H. Jones finished with 13 points and nine rebounds while Billings was good for 12 and seven. Gray added 16 points, six boards and two steals, Howard had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, Cheyenne Parker had six points, 11 boards, three helpers and three swipes, AD Durr had 13 points and three assists and Nia Coffey had 12 points. H. Jones shot a team-high 50 percent from three (2-of-4).
Johannès finished with 18 points and four helpers. Stewart was an atrocious — especially by her standards — 1-of-14 from the field. She was 15-of-20 in her previous outing. She finished with 12 points (10-of-12 at the stripe), a season-high 13 rebounds, a season-high six assists, and a season-high-tying four blocks. Vandersloot added 11 points, six boards, six helpers and two steals while Jonquel Jones had 12 points, six rebounds, two swipes and two rejections and Laney had 17 points. Laney was 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from distance.
After a quiet first half, Howard got going with seven straight Dream points from 8:10 in the third to 6:43 in the third. Five straight Coffey points after that gave Atlanta a 53-52 lead. Laney answered that with five straight points that put NY back up four. A 4-0 Dream run then tied it at 57.
Down 26-20, NY went on an 11-4 run to lead 31-30 with 5:39 remaining before halftime. Laney scored five points on the run with a left-corner three and a lay-in, and Stewart capped it with two free throws. The Liberty then went up five on a Johannès-assisted Stefanie Dolson layup with 45 ticks remaining in the second quarter and would lead by that margin at the break.
Down 20-17, the Dream went on a 7-0 run to close the first and extended it to a 9-0 run with a Durr pull-up mid-range make in transition 44 seconds into the second quarter that made it 26-20. Durr also had a three and two free throws on the run.
J. Jones scored the Liberty’s first four points of the game, but picked up her second foul two minutes and two seconds in. Johannès made a nice driving layup to tie the game at 6 before a Dolson three made it 11-10 Liberty and a Laney right-corner 3 made it 14-12 Liberty.
Johannès found Dolson wide-open for a layup that made it 17-14 NY and later made a three that made it 20-17 NY.