The New York Liberty put together a 10-game winning streak in the regular season to climb out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. They’ll need to put together another streak if they want to keep their season alive.
The Liberty fell to Atlanta, 81-75, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
They face the fourth-seeded Dream in Atlanta on Tuesday night in a win-or-go-home Game 2 of the three-game Conference Final.
Despite being outplayed in nearly every facet of the game, the Liberty still had a chance to steal Game 1 at home late in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta guard Iziane Castro Marques missed two free-throws with 1:03 to go and the Dream up, 74-73. Cappie Pondexter came out of a scrum with the ball, dribbled up the floor and drew a foul from Castro Marques with 54.9 seconds to go. She hit her first free-throw and -- after a Dream timeout -- knocked down the second to put the Liberty up 75-74.
But Angel McCoughtry knocked down two free throws of her own after a bad foul by Essence Carson and the Castro Marques leaked out for an uncontested layup after a Pondexter miss on the ensuing posession to put the Dream up, 78-75. THe Liberty lost for the first time since July 18 -- a streak of 10 straight games.
Atlanta was playing its first game since August 27 after it swept top-seeded Washington in the Conference Semifinal. But the Dream didn’t look rusty at all, taking of the Liberty in the paint by outrebounding New York 31-21.
The Liberty certainly felt the absence of starting forward Janel McCarville. Coach Anne Donovan wasn’t saying whether McCarville would be available for Game 2 on Tuesday night. If she’s on the bench, the Liberty bigs -- Kia Vaughn Plenette Pierson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin – have to find a way to compete with Atlanta down low.
The Dream is the top rebounding team in the WNBA, averaging 43 per game and 9.5 more than their opponents, which is also the largest rebound differential in the league.
The winner of the Conference Final will face the Seattle Storm, which swept the Phoenix Mercuty in the Western Conference Finals.
The Liberty let the Dream off the hook in the third quarter. They opened the third with a 13-1 run, but let a seven-point lead slip away with a series of poor offensive posessions.
Pierson had nine points during the Liberty’s run as the team took a 52-45 lead, its largest of the game, with 6:55 to go in the third. But Atlanta outscored the Liberty 11-4 to close out the quarter. The Liberty committed four turnovers and missed five of seven shots to close out the quarter.
Second quarter: The Liberty caught a break when Lyttle picked up her third foul with 5:26 to go in the first half, but were unable to take advantage. Atlanta beat up the Liberty on the interior, outrebounding New York 24-12 in the half, including 11-4 on the offensive glass and took a 44-39 lead into the locker room.
Pondexter was dynamic in the second quarter, scoring on hard drives to the basket and also from the perimeter. The Liberty lead guard finished the quarter with 10 points and the half with 14. She cut through three Atlanta defenders to convert a layup and cut the Atlanta lead to 38-34. Nicole Powell hit a three-pointer 11 seconds left in the half to pull the Liberty within five.
Team owner James Dolan is in the house, sitting in his customary baseline seat next to Allan Houston. The Liberty are the only Dolan-owned basketball team to make the playoffs since 2003.
First quarter: Cappie Pondexter picked up her second foul with 4:21 to go in the first. Needless to say, the Liberty can’t afford to be without its star guard for along stretch. Pondexter was replaced by Essence Carson with 2:31 to go in the quarter.
Anne Donovan said on Saturday that injured forward Janel McCarville was able to limit Atlanta’s Sancho Lyttle in the teams’ four regular-season meetings. With McCarville on thebench, Lyttle scored ten points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter, including four on the offensive glass.
The Dream scored the final two baskets of the quarter off of offensive rebounds to take a 27-21 lead.
6:50 p.m.: The Liberty will be without starting forward Janel McCarville tonight in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Dream.
McCarville sprained her left ankle on Wednesday morning prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against Indiana.
She tried to test the ankle on Sunday morning prior to Game 1.
"We had practice this morning and she’s not there. She’s not close," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said.
Look for Plenette Pierson to start in place of McCarville. Kia Vaughn should also see significant minutes.