McCarville, Thorn Rally Liberty Over Dream
Sparked by the clutch play of their veterans, the Liberty staged a remarkable comeback in Atlanta. At the center of it all was point guard Erin Thorn, whom Head Coach Pat Coyle called on to replace rookie Leilani Mitchell in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell had come into the game ranked second in the WNBA with a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, but struggled on Wednesday, prompting the game-changing decision to have Thorn run the point.
That move paid immediate dividends, as the savvy veteran Thorn turned in what will likely be remembered as one of the season's most dynamic individual performances.
With her team down 64-52 and shooting just 3-for-21 from behind the arc, Thorn hit a three-pointer to cut Atlanta's lead to single digits. After trading hoops the next couple of trips down the court, Thorn and Janel McCarville converged on the Dream's Katie Feenstra, forcing a turnover. Thorn then led a fast break, finding McCarville to cut Atlanta's lead to 70-64 with 4:45 left.
After trading buckets a few more times, Thorn continued to fuel the Liberty run -- finding Cathrine Kraayeveld for an open three-pointer before connecting with her again on a backdoor cut that drew New York to within two points with 1:54 remaining.
"Watching the Dream on tape, it's obvious they are still learning and developing as a team," said Coyle. "Every team that has come to Atlanta has had a tough road. They will start winning games; it's just a matter of time. We showed a lot of character in the second half being down 12 points. It showed a lot about our team. We could have easily folded, and we didn't. We started to trap Katie Feenstra, but we should have never let her get that deep in the paint in the first place."
After Kraayeveld connected on a pair of free throws to tie the score rookie Essence Carson hit an 18-foot jumper from the corner off a pass from McCarville, giving the Liberty their first lead of the fourth quarter.
New York then stepped up its defense to seal the victory. With the 6-foot-8 Feenstra standing at the doorstep, McCarville elevated for a thunderous rejection that forced a shot clock violation. McCarville then converted at the other end of the court, and following free throws from Thorn and Shameka Christon, New York escaped with its first road win of the season, evening the Liberty's record at 4-4.
McCarville had come into the game still looking for the form that won her the WNBA's Most Improved Player Award last season. As one of five Liberty players to score in double-digits, she was truly on top of her game on Thursday and turned in the best statistical performance of her career. She matched her career high with 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting and also set a career high in assists with seven. She rounded out her line with three boards, two steals and two rejections.
"We look to go through me on the offensive end, and when I am doubled-teamed, it's easy to find my open teammate," said McCarville. "We needed to get stops on defense late in the game, and took it one possession at a time and we came out ahead."
McCarville did most of her damage in the first half, scoring 17 points while the rest of her teammates combined for 18. She was a remarkable 8-for-8 from the field before missing a rushed three-point attempt in the final seconds of the second quarter that left New York trailing by one point at halftime
After McCarville single-handedly kept the Liberty in the game in the first half, Christon came through in the third quarter. While New York shot just 3-for-17 in the quarter, Christon scored eight of the team's 14 points, keeping the Liberty within six entering the fourth quarter.
Christon finished her night with 14 points, eight boards, four assists and four steals. She also set a career-high with six offensive rebounds.
"My shot was not falling tonight, but the idea was to get to the free throw line," said Christon. "Anything I can do to help my team win, I'm going to do, whether it's rebounding, passing or defense. It was a point of emphasis to go to the rebounds and it was a collective effort on all of us to crash the boards."
Despite shooting just 3-for-12 from the field, Thorn enjoyed her best game of the season with her fourth-quarter heroics. She ended the game with 10 points and four assists -- three coming in the final five minutes while New York mounted its furious comeback.
Kraayeveld continued her fine season with another solid game. She netted 15 points, six rebounds and two assists, and most importantly, knocked down pivotal baskets in the fourth, scoring 10 in the final frame.
On a night when veterans were the story, Carson also turned in a fine performance that included the go-ahead basket with 65 seconds left in the game. The first-round draft pick out of Rutgers finished with 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
"She (Carson) brings a positive attitude and work ethic to every game as well as practice," said McCarville. "She does not have that rookie mentality; she knows when to shoot and when to pass. She is one of the better stoppers on the team."
Second-chance opportunities were the difference for the Liberty. New York grabbed 15 offensive boards, with Christon nabbing six. Without creating those added opportunities to cut into the Dream's lead, New York might not have left Atlanta with the win.
"We played with a lot of heart, and as a competitor, I know the game is not over until the final buzzer," said Christon. "It just shows how much heart we have."
The Liberty looks to go above .500 for the first time this season when they return home Saturday night to face the Minnesota Lynx at Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.
Celebrate Dads and Daughters Day with the Liberty when they return to The Garden on Saturday, June 14 vs. the Lynx at 7:30 pm. To score tickets, click here to purchase online, visit The Garden Box Office or call 877-WNBA-TIX.