The New York Liberty are going back to the playoffs. Late on Sunday afternoon, they outlasted the Atlanta Dream, 87-83, in a hard-fought game to claim the final available postseason berth. Seeding and first-round opponent is still to be determined based on results later on Sunday, but the Liberty will be either the No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
In what has become a familiar story over the past few weeks, the Liberty found themselves down early but quickly got back into the game, thanks to some Marine Johannes magic. When the Frenchwoman checked in to the game with 5:52 remaining in the first quarter, the Liberty already trailed by eight. Just over four minutes later, after she had made her fourth 3-pointer of the opening period, they led by three.
The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair, as the Liberty repeatedly tried and failed to pull away. In fact, with less than three minutes to play, the Dream had the lead. They didn’t keep it for long, though, as Natasha Howard put her stamp on the game with six straight points to put the Liberty back in front, including a massive 3-pointer in the corner with less than a minute to play. She then sank two free throws with 8.6 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Johannes, who also hit an absurd running 3-pointer off one foot, finished with a career-high six 3s, 18 points and four assists. Howard, meanwhile, went for 18 points and nine rebounds. But as well as both of them played, the real star of the show for the Liberty just might have been Stefanie Dolson.
After winning the title with the Sky last season, Dolson signed with the Liberty in free agency this winter. A New York native, Dolson said upon signing that it was “dream come true” and wanted to help the Liberty become “perennial contenders.” The latter will have to wait, but she did help them make the playoffs.
In arguably her best game of the season, Dolson registered 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists on 6 of 11 from the field. For all the baskets and assists, her most important contribution came on the offensive glass. Howard’s clutch 3 in the closing minute was only possible because Dolson crashed the glass and secured the Liberty an extra possession.
“[Making the playoffs in her first season with the Liberty] means a lot,” Dolson said. “I’m just really glad for this franchise, my teammates. I thought we played incredibly hard tonight and I’m just really proud of us. It’s exciting to be part of the playoffs, but it’s not where we’re stopping.”
The Liberty will have an uphill battle in the first round regardless of their opponent, but with veteran leaders like Dolson and Howard, and electric backcourt talents like Johannes and Sabrina Ionescu, they’re capable of competing with anyone.