By Sydney Gibbs
The Atlanta Dream (2-1) rallied in the fourth-quarter Friday night for a thrilling 84-78 win against the New York Liberty (0-3). Atlanta forward Betnijah Laney lit up the stat sheet and scored a career-high 30 points with eight rebounds.
The first quarter was completely in Atlanta’s control. They busted out for an 11-0 start and stretched their biggest lead of the game to 14. The Dream led 22-16 at the conclusion of the first quarter — all credited to Atlanta’s seven offensive rebounds and New York’s seven turnovers.
The Liberty flipped the script in the second period, working their way back into the game and taking a 27-25 lead – their first of the game. As things were starting to take off for New York, everything came to a halt when 2020 No. 1 overall Draft pick, Sabrina Ionescu, came down on her ankle bringing the ball up court. She never returned for the second half of play and finished the game with 10 points.
The Liberty’s 20 points of the bench propelled them to a 43-41 lead at intermission. New York was starting to settle in and making the shots they needed to make –– shooting a solid 50% from the field compared to Atlanta’s abysmal 36%. They outscored the Dream 27-19 in the second frame.
After the break everything was a different story.
“We challenged them at halftime,” said Head Coach Nicki Collen. “We started the game on a 13-0 run because we guarded real hard and had a high level of communication. I think when we subbed we let our guard down a little bit and kind of never got it back that first half. I really challenged them out of the break to really sit down and defend.”
The Dream came out of the locker room on fire and came back from their two-point deficit –– going on another 11-0 run that lasted seven minutes — but the Liberty pushed through and were not letting up.
In the final three minutes of the game, New York’s Jocelyn Willoughby drained a three to make it a one-possession game. Chennedy Carter shows off what she can do in crunch time and makes a driving layup to put the team up by four.
After a shot clock violation and a forced turnover, New York took the advantage and went to the free throw line on a shooting foul –– again making it a one-possession competition. Laney’s offensive rebound and score in the final seconds closed out the game.
“I think what she did that made a huge difference tonight was some of her offensive rebounds,” Collen said about Laney’s performance. “The late offensive rebound [and] putback she had was huge. The late steal on that baseline out-of-bounds. Just the little plays were big.”
Rebounding made a significant difference tonight for the Dream, out-rebounding the Liberty 43-33 and 17 of those being from the offensive end of the floor.
“Rebounding really hurt us in our last game against Vegas,” said center Elizabeth Williams. “It was something we talked about and something we emphasized. A lot of rebounding is just making it happen.”
Williams filled the box score with a third straight double-double, scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds. Carter finished the game with another double-digit performance, recording 17 points.
The Atlanta Dream takes the court again for their third game in five days, going head-to-head with the Indiana Fever on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET.