Liberty Live the Dream; Clinch Playoff Berth
Now that the Libs are in the playoffs, don't expect them to take their foot off the pedal. They want to roll into the postseason with momentum, not to mention home court-advantage. They currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, a half game behind the Detroit Shock.
"Our job's not done, and that's what we just talked about," said Head Coach Patty Coyle. "There are still more games to be played. There are still a lot of things to play for like home court advantage."
Star center Janel McCarville agreed.
"It's really on Patty, but I think we all want to keep playing hard," said McCarville. "It feels good to be back in it. Hopefully, we will go back to the drawing board a bit, work on us, our execution and timing and head into the playoffs with a head of steam."
Once again, it was a rejuvenated McCarville who led the charge for the Liberty against Atlanta, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists with 21, five and five respectively.
"I'm feeling really comfortable on the offensive (sets)", said McCarville, who has posted 20-point games in four of her last five starts.
Cathrine Kraayeveld also came up clutch for the Liberty, hitting back-to-back three-pointers early in the first quarter to set the tone for her club. She finished the night with 18 points, five boards and two assists.
With Shameka Christon and Tiffany Jackson still sidelined day to day with injuries, a quartet of players stepped up to help New York capture its 17th victory of the year.
The first was Lisa Willis, who made her first career start just one game after scoring a career-high 22 points against the Houston Comets. Despite her strong performance on the road, Willis admitted to being a nervous wreck before the game started.
"I was trying not to think too much about it, so I wouldn't get nervous, but it didn't really work," she said. "I'm always nervous until the jump ball. I get like that, I'll get nervous until the game actually starts, and then I'm fine."
She certainly was fine, as once again, the sharpshooter made a difference, scoring 12 points on 3-for-4 shooting, including one deep trey. Willis also shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe, and led the team with three steals to go along with three rebounds and an assist.
Assisting her in the backcourt, Ashley Battle and Erin Thorn came off the bench to play meaningful minutes. Battle scored nine points, including two off of a pretty, crowd-pleasing no-look behind the back pass from Leilani Mitchell to start the fourth quarter. She also chipped in with four rebounds and three assists.
Thorn, meanwhile, provided savvy veteran leadership for her squad. Proving to be a calming influence, the longest tenured Liberty player recorded six points, two rebounds, three assists and one block in the win.
Meanwhile, up front, a rejuvenated Jessica Davenport played a strong game, rounding back into form after starting the season injured.
"The longer I play, I think the more productive I can be," said the 6-foot-5 center. "I'm just trying to be aggressive and help our team any way I can. I think I just need to be active and do what I do, and I think I can be a big presence down low."
In her ninth game back, she was a huge presence in the front court, flattening a Dream player with a vicious pick that made the entire Garden crowd, and Liberty bench, both gasp and celebrate at the same time. Davenport played a season high 13 minutes, recording two boards, one assist, two steals and one incredible block in the third quarter. More important, she shot a perfect three-for-three from the field, showing a soft shooting touch from both outside and around the rim to net seven points.
"It's something I've been working on all year," she said. "Just working hard and being aggressive with different moves, trying to keep the other team off balance. Today they were falling. It felt really good."
The job done by those three off the bench did not go unnoticed.
"I think our bench did a really good job tonight," said Coyle. "Davenport came in and gave us good minutes. I think Thorn and Ashley also gave us quality minutes. They have been solid unit for us the entire season."
Although just an expansion team, the Dream showed a lot of fight, led by the always dangerous Betty Lennox, who scored a game-high 28 points. In fact, the game was tied at 51-51 with 3:41 to go in the third quarter before New York pulled away for good with a 14-5 run where five different players scored to ignite the Liberty.
Still, Atlanta refused to go down without a fight. After the Dream ralled back to within three, trailing 71-68 with 2:46 remaining, the Liberty showed great resolve by turning away from Atlanta with an 11-0 run to propel themselves into the postseason.
While it was a night to celebrate in the locker room following the final buzzer, as League Commissioner Donna Orender stopped by to congratulate each and every player, the Liberty remain focused on the job at hand, refusing to ease up over the last week of the regular season.
"We're going to go all out," added Davenport. "We want to get good seeding in the playoffs and be playing well on a roll when we start them."
Individual tickets for the first round (East Conference Semi-Finals) of the 2008 WNBA Playoffs go on sale on Friday, Sept. 12 at 10 a.m. at the Madison Square Garden box office, online at NYLiberty.com and via phone at 877-WNBA-TIX.
In the meantime, catch New York when the Liberty return to action Sunday vs. the Chicago Sky at 1 p.m.
To score tickets, click here to purchase online, visit The Garden Box Office or call 877-WNBA-TIX.