Brooklyn Boro

Liberty burned late in Dream rematch

Struggling New York falters down stretch in loss to Atlanta

June 30, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Betnijah Laney was expected to be named a WNBA All-Star on Wednesday.

But the Liberty’s top scoring threat missed several key baskets down the stretch against her former team Tuesday night in College Park, Georgia, forcing New York to leave Atlanta with a two-game split of its series against the Dream.

“I thought Betnijah carried us,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said defiantly in the aftermath of a hard-to-swallow 73-69 loss in front of 1,131 fans at the Gateway Center.

Laney, averaging just under 20 points per game this year, finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

But it was the shots she didn’t make that likely cost New York (8-9) a chance to leave Atlanta with a sweep and a winning record.

After Monique Billings tied the game at 69-69 for the Dream (6-9), Laney misfired on a 20-footer with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter and traveled while trying to put back a rebound moments later.

Courtney Williams, who poured in a game-high 18 points, put Atlanta ahead to stay with a short jumper before Laney squandered New York’s best chance to even the score by missing a layup and two putbacks as the clock wound down to 26 seconds.

Courtney Williams carried Atlanta past New York Tuesday night as the Liberty suffered their eighth loss in 11 games. AP Photo by John Bazemore

Chennedy Carter and Williams each added a free throw to settle matters as the Liberty fell to 3-8 after beginning the campaign with five victories in their first six games.

New York’s loss also dropped it into the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA at the midway point of the campaign after the Liberty emerged as surprise candidates during the season’s first two weeks.

“It’s hard for me to speak on that last possession because I think we’re not even in that position without the way (Laney) played,” Hopkins noted.

There’s no doubt that Laney has been the biggest part of this resurgent Liberty season after Brooklyn’s WNBA team went a league-worst 2-20 at the league’s bubble site in Bradenton, Florida last year.

In Saturday’s series opener, Laney put up 28 points to compliment Sami Whitcomb’s career-best 30-point performance as New York rolled to a 101-78 rout.

Things were much tighter in the rematch, which featured 12 lead changes and 11 ties before Williams took control for Atlanta and Laney failed to deliver in crunch time.

“I know that they’re pretty disappointed,” Hopkins ceded. “We held them to 35 percent [shooting] and lost. It’s frustrating.”

It will be even more so if New York doesn’t find a way to get back on track at Barclays Center Saturday vs. Washington at 1 p.m.

Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins believes Sami Whitcomb should earn All-Star status this week. AP Photo by John Bazemore

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Rookie Michaela Onyenwere had 13 points and Leaonna Odom added 10 for the Liberty, who got six points and six rebounds from Sabrina Ionescu as she continued to play on a 25-minute limit due to an ankle injury. … After hosting the Mystics here on Saturday afternoon, the Liberty will welcome the Dallas Wings to Barclays on Monday night. Washington is just one-half game behind New York in the standings and Dallas is one-half game ahead, making this upcoming homestand critical if the Liberty hope to stay in serious playoff contention. … Whitcomb is averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for New York, impressing Hopkins and her teammates enough that they are openly campaigning for her selection to the All-Star Game. “If (fans) are not considering (voting for Whitcomb for the All-Star Game), they need to,” Hopkins said. “Sami has been an integral part of the turnaround we’ve experienced. She has been our most consistent player, a phenomenal leader and teammate.”

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