ATLANTA - Cappie Pondexter set the tone for the Liberty.
Pondexter scored 33 points and the Liberty earned an 88-82 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday.
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Pondexter, the WNBA's third-leading scorer, was irked by the Liberty's 85-67 home loss Saturday to Los Angeles so she spoke up before the Liberty (10-13) took the Philips Arena floor to try and keep her team's playoff hopes alive.
"Cappie before the game was very vocal about how it's time to start winning some games, and for everybody to step up mentally and physically," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She set the tone, no question about it."
The Liberty were more physical, and out-rebounded the Dream 43-30.
Angel McCoughtry scored 30 points and Erika de Souza had a season-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, but the Dream lost for the seventh time in eight games after a 10-1 start to the season.
Atlanta (11-8) became the last WNBA team to lose at home in falling to 8-1 in Philips Arena. The Liberty (10-13) moved to 4-7 on the road.
With 11 points in the first quarter, Pondexter led the Liberty to a 21-15 lead, and the Liberty rarely let up. The Liberty had a 24-11 rebounding edge in the first half.
She said her pre-game message to teammates was straightforward: get it together, or our season will soon end.
"It was about not wanting to leave and go overseas right now. That's seven months of being away from family and not enjoying home," she said after shooting 11-for-23, including 3-of-5 on 3s. She added a game-high seven assists and six rebounds.
"If it's something to motivate us to play better, make the playoffs and advance, it's great motivation I think."
The Dream looked like a playoff lock early this season. Injuries have slowed them.
After the 10-1 start, forward Sancho Lyttle suffered a fracture in her left foot on July 9 against Minnesota. She's still out, and guard Tiffany Hayes returned Sunday from a seven-game absence because of knee surgery. She added five points off the bench against the Liberty while Atlanta struggled to rediscover lost chemistry.
"I think tonight was Cappie; Cappie was on fire," Atlanta coach Fred Williams said. "(Lyttle and Hayes) ... those two players are about 25 points and 12-14 boards a game combined. I just thought tonight we didn't get the loose balls and rebounds. New York did."
McCoughtry picked up two offensive fouls in the first quarter, and Dream starting forward Le'coe Willingham had four fouls in the first half. Still, Atlanta neared intermission just a basket behind.
Then Pondexter struck. She missed on a drive, teammate Plenette Pierson grabbed one of her 12 rebounds and missed, and then Pondexter rebounded on the right baseline. From 10 feet, she made a jumper as the Dream's Ruth Riley fouled with 0.1 second left.
With the free throw, the Liberty led 42-37 at halftime.
The Dream led briefly in the third on a pair of free throws by rookie Alex Bentley, but the Liberty moved ahead 68-63 by the end of the period and led the rest of the way.
The Liberty clinched when Pondexter drove the lane and made contact with Atlanta defender Leilani Mitchell with 19 seconds left. Mitchell was called for blocking, and Pondexter's two free throws put the Liberty up 85-80.
The Liberty were the only team to beat the Dream in Atlanta's 10-1 start, and Sunday they became the only opponent to win in Atlanta.
Said Laimbeer: "That's our first-team All-Pro, who can score almost at will. I think we match up well to a degree with them."