The New York Liberty head into All-Star break with momentum after a dramatic win over the Atlanta Dream on July 16th at The Garden. Analyst Ros Gold-Onwude shares her insights on the game as well as a few candid moments with the players.
The New York Liberty defeated the top team in the East, the Atlanta Dream, 77-75, on Wednesday in dramatic fashion. In front of a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden on the famously loud and youthful Camp Day, All-Star starter Cappie Pondexter drove left for a pull-up jumper kissed off the glass and drilled the game winning shot. Despite a slippery fourth quarter in which the Dream attempted a last-ditch comeback, the Liberty held strong with two consecutive defensive stops that set up Pondexter's thrilling clutch bucket.
New York played with focus, correcting errors made in past match-ups with Atlanta. On many occasions the Liberty had multiple players back in transition defense. New York out-rebounded Atlanta, the league's top rebounding team, 42-33, in the win. In their previous matchup on June 22nd, Angel McCoughtry grabbed 8 offensive rebounds. On Wednesday afternoon she only tallied 2 offensive boards. The defense on Angel McCoughtry by Alex Montgomery and Swin Cash should be commended. Keep in mind that no defensive effort against McCoughtry will be perfect; she's too talented for that. However, Montgomery led the way working with ferocity to beat McCoughtry to a spot, force her into help, meet her in the paint when running in transition and box her out. Except for a few slip-ups Montgomery had the assistance of her teammates to rely on in help-side defense. Plenette Pierson, the player Bill Laimbeer pointed out as a high-IQ basketball player and his best post defender, played team-defense with outstanding awareness of weak-side and strong-side responsibilities, enhancing her ability to draw charges.
Turnovers continue to haunt the Liberty as their 18 team turnovers led to 25 points for Atlanta. Most of those points came in a hurry in the form of run-outs the other way off of a wayward Liberty pass. In the midst of some troubling possessions in the final quarter, New York anchored down and displayed heart and grit to pull out the victory. The Liberty were led by All-Star Tina Charles with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Anna Cruz added 10 points and 5 rebounds from the point guard position. Cappie Pondexter scored 8 points, including the game winner, and dished out 7 assists. New York's bench outscored Atlanta's 32-15 with Sugar Rodgers and Plenette Pierson pumping out 15 and 14 points, respectively, off of the pine.
CAPPIE PONDEXTER: Did Bill Laimbeer draw up the final play of the game for you or did you ask for the last shot yourself?
He drew it up. He knows I'm good at that stuff, he might not say it but he knows. I'm kind of cocky when it comes to that stuff, a game winning shot. My mind set is: "I'm making this always". Whether it was at Rutgers or now in the pros, that's always my mindset.
In what ways was this win important for the team?
I needed to get my timing and rhythm back. With the groin injury I hadn't practiced with the team for four days. Not practicing throws off timing and rhythm. As a team, we needed this. It is vital. We dropped the last two games after having a great run. We had four days of practice to get after it. I'm upset we let them back in the game in the fourth quarter but that's something to improve for us. After the game the coaches said that if this was five weeks ago we probably wouldn't have won the game. We showed growth.
TINA CHARLES You've been much more aggressive, especially early in games, in the second quarter of the season. What adjustments are you making and what are you learning from Bill Laimbeer?
I'm just being more engaged and knowing my role now. I know I have to set the tone especially on offense. I'm being more focused and paying attention to detail each possession. There's no possessions off; I can't allow myself to be tired mentally. I'm harder on myself. I'm trusting Bill and what he sees in me. Having his wisdom, knowing he played the same position as me when he was in the NBA, I trust him.
How has your leadership role changed over the course of the season?
I was getting acclimated earlier. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. Now I'm more comfortable, I try to lead by example always, say things here and there and stay in my lane.
ANNA CRUZ How much do you feel it is your responsibility to bring energy to the team each game?
I've always played with energy since I was young. It's how I play, I keep going and pushing. I can play hard defense, play with energy, and the team can run with me on the court. Sometimes I'm tired but I keep pushing and playing hard. That's all I have to do is play hard every minute.
Turnovers have hurt the Liberty this season. As the team's point guard how concerned are you about this?
We have to play with better timing. We have new players and we need practice to know each other. Of course turnovers are going to happen but we must keep it under control.
SUGAR RODGERS You've been a spark off of the bench. How can you tell when you are "on" and "in the zone" during the game?
I just go out and do my job whether I'm sixth, eighth, or 12th player off of the bench. I can usually tell I'm "hot" when I hit my first shot. Then another, then another. (Laughs) I was aggressive in the game and that was premeditated. The coaches always say "Sugar you were floating out in space today" well this game I was definitely on Earth.
As the all-time leading scorer at Georgetown (men's or women's) you are no stranger to scoring a lot of points. Do you see yourself experiencing that level of success at the WNBA level? Can you imagine yourself taking and making the game winning shot like Cappie Pondexter did?
Yes, I do. I know it will take time. Last year with Minnesota I didn't really get to be a rookie because I didn't play a lot. This year is different. I need to be out there to make real game mistakes and learn. I think it's been a good process. I just got out and play. Everyone has confidence. I do. I have fun. I like big shots.
I watch Cappie and learn. I hope that I am in that position here. Maybe once Cappie is done it might be a transition to me in that role. I watch her, I look up to her, I play behind her for that kind of shot, but I like to think I'm still in the dog hunt!