Photo by Ross D. Franklin
NEW YORK -- After seeing their 15-point lead cut to five in less than 5 minutes in the fourth quarter, the New York Liberty kept their composure. They got some key stops, made some big shots and pulled out a needed victory.
Cappie Pondexter scored 25 points to lead the Liberty to a 91-79 victory over the first-place Atlanta Dream on Friday night.
"Cappie for sure is our motor," Liberty coach Anne Donovan said. "She's the engine that makes us go. ... She's our star offensively. ... She is the one that everybody feeds off of."
Leilani Mitchell had 11 points -- including two key 3-pointers down the stretch -- and Janel McCarville and Taj McWilliams-Franklin added 10 each for the Liberty (4-4), who have won consecutive games for the first time this season.
"We are getting better," Pondexter said. "The chemistry is definitely getting better, but again, the fourth quarter. It's been eating us up. ... We have to learn how to close it out, and I think that's our battle right there going into the next stretch of games."
Erika De Souza scored 11 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Dream (7-3), losers of three of four since opening the season a franchise-best 6-0.
Iziane Castro Marques had 17 points, Sancho Lyttle added 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Angel McCoughtry 12 points.
Atlanta dominated New York inside, finishing with a 41-32 edge in rebounding and a 50-18 advantage in scoring in the paint. However, the Liberty were 9 for 20 on 3-pointers, while the Dream shot 2 for 13, and Atlanta -- which came in last in the league in free-throw shooting at 66 percent -- finished 11 for 21 (52 percent). The league-best Liberty made 18 of 19 from the line.
"It cost us," Dream coach Marynell Meadors said of her team's free-throw shooting. "People are fouling us because we go to the line and we miss, so we have to figure out a way to start making free throws. ... If you can close the gap by hitting your free throws, then it makes things a little bit easier."
Trailing by 15 after three quarters, the Dream appeared to play with some urgency in the fourth. Armintie Price and Lyttle had two baskets each as Atlanta scored the first eight points of the quarter to pull to 70-63 with 6:21 to go.
Kia Vaughn ended New York's scoring drought 15 seconds later with two free throws, as all 10 Liberty players in the game scored.
De Souza made consecutive layups, the second after Castro Marques saved the ball from going out of bounds under the basket and threw it back to De Souza, who scored to pull Atlanta to 72-67 with 5:17 left.
However, Nicole Powell hit a 3-pointer -- New York's first field goal of the fourth -- with 4:42 to go to push the lead back to eight. Leilani Mitchell beat the shot clock with a 3 to extend the Liberty's lead to 80-70 with 3:15 left, and then made another 1:07 later to push the advantage to 11. Atlanta got no closer than seven again.
The Dream scored six straight points to pull to 46-44 with just under 7 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Liberty then began pulling away. Pondexter followed with a 3, and then Powell made two consecutive baskets to push the lead back up to seven with under 6 minutes left.
Kalana Greene's jumper with 4 minutes remaining in the third stretched New York's advantage to 57-49.
The Liberty closed the quarter with an 11-2 run over the final 11/2 minutes. Sidney Spencer started it with a 3 to push the lead to nine with 1:26 left. Pondexter's three-point play made it 65-53 with 45 seconds to go, and Spencer's third 3 of the game beat the third-quarter buzzer and gave New York its biggest lead of the game, 70-55.
Pondexter scored seven points as the Liberty took a 17-6 lead with 4:39 to go in the first quarter.
"We have to start better," McCoughtry said. "We can't keep letting teams get that rhythm early. Free throws were a big factor. We just have to get in the gym and work on these things."
Atlanta, which missed eight of its first 11 shots, scored the next six points. Castro Marques had consecutive baskets to pull the Dream to 17-13 with 2:16 to go in the first.
Greene's jumper beat the halftime buzzer to give the Liberty a 41-34 lead at the break.