The first meeting between the New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream went to overtime, and the second meeting went to double overtime. There was little drama on Wednesday afternoon at MSG when the Liberty led virtually the entire game and won 86-62.
New York and Atlanta are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference with winning records, but that doesn’t necessarily make this a statement win for the Liberty. “I don’t know about statement,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We knew how important this was. With only 12 games to go, that puts us four up in the tiebreaker on them and they’re in fourth place. That’s a pretty substantial margin with only 12 games to go.”
The Liberty now have the third best record in the WNBA. The Los Angeles Sparks came into Wednesday with a whopping 18-1 record. The 16-6 Liberty are just behind the 16-4 Minnesota Lynx, who they will meet on Friday night.
Tina Charles led the way on Wednesday with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Guard Rebecca Allen came off the bench and scored a career-high 11 points, including seven in the second quarter as the Liberty began to pull away. “When Bill puts it out there, you know if you make a mistake, just don’t do it again,” Allen said. “He has confidence in you as a player, so I really like that.”
The guard was limited to two games last season because of a knee injury, and then Allen missed the first 12 games of the season because she was training with the Australian Opals national team. In the 10 games she has been with the team, the focus has been on getting accustomed to her teammates and the system.
“It was always going to be a process,” Allen said. “Just learning the system, learning the players and learning each other. But it’s actually been pretty smooth. The girls are really helpful.”
Laimbeer likes Allen’s skill set. Now it’s about having her learn defensive schemes and getting her used to the team which is so skilled that it cuts down on Allen’s playing time.
The coach especially likes the speed she brings. “As you watch the game, you see the things that she can do,” Laimbeer said. “She’s very active, she’s always moving. Her full-court, I don’t want to call it speed, I’d call it her strides and her athleticism, faster than anybody else. She has great hops and she can shoot deep. I like all the traits, it’s a matter of getting her acclimated to how we do business.”
Allen didn’t make the Australian Olympic team, but that at least works in favor for the Liberty. Now she can spend that month learning more about the system. And if she continues to develop, Laimbeer will be trying to figure out how to put her in an already talented rotation. “There’s a lot of good players on this basketball team, so you have to earn your time,” Laimbeer said. “You don’t just give the time to people.”