(ATLANTA) After a blistering 12-1 start to open the 2013 season the Atlanta Dream have cooled to blizzard proportions, having lost six of their previous seven coming into Sunday night’s game against the visiting New York Liberty. The Dream, however, could at least claim perfection at home with a franchise-record 13 game winning streak. The streak ended last night at Philips Arena with a 33 point game by New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter as Atlanta fell to New York, 88-82.
“I thought we played with great determination and heart,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We talked about it before the game, how it was time for us to win some basketball games to try to get in the playoffs, and Cappie was very vocal about it before the game, saying it’s time for all of us to step up, and obviously she did.”
The Dream scored the first six points of the game, but Pondexter got off to a fast start, scoring 11 of New York’s 21 first quarter points. Pondexter herself can’t explain why she got off to a good start. “I have no idea. I’m just trying to help my team win, and that’s really my focus. So I guess it was just more focus on basketball play.”
“Any time Cappie steps on the floor, she’s the kind of player you have to put 2 ½ players on the floor to watch her,” Dream head coach Fred Williams said. “Even though we did some double teaming on her, she was still able to get loose and hit some jumpers on us.”
Dream guard Tiffany Hayes appeared in her first game since June 30th, but could not contribute much to Atlanta’s effort in her first game back. Atlanta pushed back into the lead, 26-25 in the second quarter off a running layup by point guard Alex Bentley but found themselves behind again. The Dream would only score four fast break points in the first half and be limited to 11 rebounds. The transition game and rebounding have been Atlanta’s traditional strengths, strengths which the Liberty had taken away from them.
“It’s the size,” Williams said. “New York has some size in there to hold you down off the boards. What they did was clamp up on our transition game, our run-outs. We got a few early and then we didn’t get as many transition points.”
Two of Atlanta’s posts, forward Le’coe Willingham and center Ruth Riley each picked up three personal fouls in the second quarter alone, and Pondexter’s layup and foul with 1.3 seconds left in the first half put the Liberty up 42-37 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Atlanta would fight back. Down 48-41 at one point, Atlanta’s All-Stars – forward/guard Angel McCoughtry and forward/center Erika de Souza – would combine for 18 third-quarter points as a McCoughtry jump shot tied the game at 59-59 with 4:21 left in the quarter. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Pondexter was able to answer back whenever the Dream threatened. She had 12 third-quarter points of her own and the Liberty led 68-63 at the end of three quarters.
In the final quarter, Atlanta threatened once again. With 38.9 seconds left on the clock, a 3-pointer from McCoughtry on an assist by Bentley brought Atlanta to within 3 points, 83-80. New York would get the following possession and Atlanta’s only hope was to foul and pray. Pondexter hit three out of four free throws – Liberty veteran Katie Smith hit a couple more – and the Liberty walked out with the win.
Pondexter’s 33 points led all players in scoring and had seven assists. Four players scored in double figures for New York, including forward Plenette Pierson with 16, center Kara Braxton with 12 and forward-center Kelsey Bone had 11 points and 10 rebounds, the second career double-double for the rookie.
The Dream depended on McCoughtry and de Souza to fill up the box score. McCoughtry scored 30 points and de Souza’s 23 points and 11 rebounds were season highs. Atlanta only turned the ball over eight times, but lost on the boards 43-30.
Atlanta now has to hope that it can recover its mojo with a pair of games against Connecticut on Wednesday and Friday. When Dream point guard Jasmine Thomas was asked what it would take to turn things around, she said that the key was to stay together. “Teams have a tendency to lose a few games on the road, or things aren’t going their way and they can turn away from each other. As long as we stay together and keep watching film and trying to fix things like sending people to the free throw line, getting out rebounded, hustle plays we have to stay together as a team and find a way to win.”
Atlanta’s 29 free throws were a season high. The Dream made 23, with McCoughtry hitting 10 of 11. The Liberty was 19 of 20 from the free throw line.
Last night’s game was McCoughtry’s third 30+ point game of the season. Her season high is 34, but she scored 33 this month in an away game against Phoenix.
Fred Williams on the return of Tiffany Hayes: “She’s our spark. Today, she’s a little off-rhythm on a few of her drives to the basket…I think the more she gets back on the court and plays, the more she’s going to come back to full strength.”
Williams on the foul trouble of Willingham and Riley: “We want to be physical the same way, come back on boards, go for loose balls. Some of those were reach-in fouls trying to help out somebody versus somebody penetrating to the middle.”
Williams on the upcoming schedule and the change of rhythm from large gaps in the schedule versus games close together: “The other rhythm we had was playing practice games against ourselves. It’s nothing like having games every other day or every three days. We haven’t had that lately other than the last two days on the back-to-back.”