The Atlanta Dream didn’t panic when the Liberty made a run late in the first half to take a lead at the break. They just regrouped and took control of the game in the third quarter.
“We just can’t let outside things get in our head,” McCoughtry said when asked what the team discussed after giving up a 10-point lead and trailing by two at halftime. “We were a little frustrated with some calls, a little frustrated with the way we were playing, and how they were making their run. It’s called adversity, it happens. It’s the game.”
McCoughtry was 7 for 20 from the field and 8 for 10 on free throws in her return after missing two games due to a knee injury, helping the Dream (5-7) snap a two-game skid.
“It’s not because of me. It’s a team effort and everybody coming together, regrouping after a loss,” McCoughtry said. “(Lyttle) hit a couple of 3s ... she has the highest 3-point percentage shooting on the team and she’s a post player. Armintie got some great rebounds, got fouled. Lindsey (Harding) is coming back slowly.”
Leilani Mitchell scored 16 points, Kara Braxton had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Cappie Pondexter and DeMya Walker added 12 points each as the Liberty (4-9) lost for the fourth time in five games. New York’s lone win during that stretch came at Atlanta last Tuesday in a game McCoughtry missed.
Pondexter fouled out of the game late in the fourth quarter as the Liberty were trying to make a surge. She finished 4 for 17 from the field with seven turnovers.
“We couldn’t make shots tonight,” Pondexter said. “They did a great job of adjusting. We were the last game they played and obviously they made a lot of adjustments. ... We just got to learn to be consistent. It’s kind of up and down, it’s kind of hard for us to get it together.”
The Liberty had 26 turnovers, which led to 31 points for the Dream. Atlanta had 16 turnovers, leading to nine points for New York.
“Those are lost opportunities,” Mitchell said of the Liberty’s turnovers. “At least when we’re getting shots there’s a chance we’re going to get it in. We have to take better care of the ball and they’re capitalizing on those turnovers. ... They got 31 points off those turnovers. It’s just too much.”
After Walker’s layup gave New York a 42-38 lead 13 seconds into the third quarter, Atlanta took control of the game with a 20-2 run. The Liberty got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
McCoughtry started it off with a 3 and Aneika Henry’s layup put the Dream ahead for good with 9:12 remaining in the third. McCoughtry’s layup with 7 1/2 to go in the period put Atlanta ahead 49-42.
Kia Vaughn’s jumper ended the Liberty’s scoring drought 13 seconds later, but the Dream scored the next nine points to stretch their lead to 58-44 on Harding’s jumper with 3:16 left in the third.
Yelena Leuchanka’s jumper with just under 7 minutes remaining in the fourth put Atlanta ahead 70-52, the Dream’s biggest advantage of the game.
Pondexter and Braxton each had two baskets as New York scored the next eight points to pull within 10 with 3:07 to go. Pondexter fouled out 15 seconds later and McCoughtry made two free throws to push Atlanta’s lead back to 12.
“I didn’t know I had five fouls,” Pondexter said. “I thought the last charge gave me four. Obviously I would have been more smart about fouling Angel that possession. We were actually on a run, we had the momentum on our side and that foul changed things.”
Walker had a layup with 2:37 to go and then hit 2 of 4 from the line to pull New York to 72-64 in the final minute. McCoughtry closed the scoring with two free throws with about 17 seconds to go.
New York was without forward Plenette Pierson, second on the team in scoring (11.2 ppg) and rebounding (4.9), for a third straight game due to a strained calf. She could miss four to six weeks and Whisenant doesn’t expect her to return before the monthlong Olympic break, which begins July 14.
Trailing by 10 after one quarter, the Liberty slowly cut into the Dream’s lead. Mitchell’s 3 cut the deficit to seven less than 2 minutes into the second. Then, Vaughn had six points during a 9-1 run that pulled New York to 33-31 with 4:08 left in the first half.
Mitchell’s fifth 3 of the game gave New York a 40-38 lead at the break.
Cappie Pondexter, the Liberty, the Liberty, the Liberty, New York, Sancho Lyttle, Atlanta Dream, Atlanta, McCoughtry, Dream, Dream, Leilani Mitchell