By Sydney Gibbs
In a race for a WNBA Playoff spot, the Atlanta Dream made a case for themselves with a gritty 62-56 win over the New York Liberty on Thursday night. While both teams have traditionally shown a stronger offensive effort throughout the season, it was the Dream’s commitment on defense that made a meaningful impact.
“We may have set back the game a few years tonight after being 10-of-20 from the arc to go 2-for-18,” said Collen jokingly. “New York’s a little unorthodox and they’re really physical, and they’re aggressive, and they get you mismatched because of how they play. So you know I was proud of our defense.”
“I think we gave up too many offensive rebounds. You know, considering there were times where we just had to gather it in or we were messy coming down. But, it was one of those painful games where you’re just grateful you ended up on the right side of the scoreboard.”
New York opened the game going 3-of-5 from three-point range and took an eight-point lead early in the first quarter – making Atlanta call a timeout to readjust. After that, the Liberty struggled to get the ball through the hoop for the next three quarters. New York finished the game shooting 26 percent from the field, and went 0-for-15 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Dream’s offensive performance also struggled more than in other wins, as they shot season lows of 32.1 percent from the field and 11 percent from the three-point line.
“They were frustrated,” said Collen. “We were not always composed, we were constantly trying to keep them in ‘next play mode.’ I think the game was really physical. So I think kind of staying in tune, making up some big plays late, Courtney [Williams] making a big play, Betnijah [Laney] making a big basket after she kind of struggled from the field. Those are winning plays.”
The Liberty tried to make a comeback in the remaining seconds of the game, and with big free throws from New York’s Leaonna Odom, they cut into the deficit to make it a four point game with 46.5 seconds left.
Betnijah Laney sealed the win with layup through traffic, giving the Dream a six point lead with 24.9 seconds on the clock – adding to her 13-point performance. Courtney Williams finished the game with a double-double, scoring 15 points – nine of them coming in the second half – and 13 rebounds. Monique Billings had a phenomenal outing off the glass, pulling down 12 rebounds and recorded six points.
Elizabeth Williams not only ended the game with eight rebounds, eight points and a season-high of six blocks. The five-year veteran became the all-time franchise leader in blocked shots. Since her college days at Duke, Williams has always made life miserable for the players she defends.
“I guess I’ve been at this franchise longer than I realized,” said Williams. “It’s a pretty cool stat. I take a lot of pride in my defense, and anything I can do to help our team win, and I think today it’s been the blocks. So it’s an exciting set and I’m proud of it for sure.”
Williams has been nominated for the 2020 Kim Perrot Sportsmanship of the Year award. Throughout the course of this season, she has blossomed into a leader and has stepped up vocally – truly exemplifying the principles of an ideal leader according to her coaches and teammates.
“Coming to this team and knowing E [Elizabeth], she’s always been so quiet,” said forward Shekinna Stricklen. “I actually played with her in her rookie year, in Connecticut, and knowing her she’s not always been a person that’s going to talk a lot. But man, she’s really taken that role. [She’s] been a great leader on and off the court, with everything that’s been going on. I give her a lot of credit, she’s really stepped up and taken that role.”