Two years ago, Cappie Pondexter would have made that shot: a fadeaway just inside the three-point line with about 15 seconds left and the score tied against the first-place Atlanta Dream.
Instead, this Pondexter, hobbled by an ailing Achilles and a pulled groin, watched as the ball sailed fruitlessly through the air, clanking off the rim to be rebounded by Atlanta.
While it's true Pondexter is playing hurt, and her recent numbers reflect that, this is a player that trots out game after game even after coach Bill Laimbeer calls her "day-to-day." She just nabbed her sixth career All-Star nod and is one of the best and grittiest WNBA players ever.
So let's try this again. After a Liberty steal, there's less than a second remaining now and Pondexter gets the ball almost in the exact location she was moments earlier, and shoots. It's off the mark and hits the backboard, but this time, it banks in for a 77-75 Liberty victory Wednesday. "We worry every day if she's even going to play," Laimbeer said. "It is what it is. Some days are better than others."
The Liberty (8-13) led 65-55 going into the fourth quarter, when their offense seemingly evaporated into the Madison Square Garden rafters. The Dream scored 10 straight, capped by Sancho Lyttle's layup to tie the score at 65 with 5:52 remaining. Swin Cash broke the drought on a baseline jumper with 5:30 left, the Liberty's first points of the fourth.
"We had to make some subs and the offense just kind of went flat," Laimbeer said.
"I can't play everyone 20 minutes in a row at that pace . . . I thought we made some big defensive plays in the last few minutes that gave us a chance to win the game."The Liberty eventually took a 75-72 lead on Anna Cruz's jumper, but Jasmine Thomas hit a three with a minute left to tie it and set the stage for Pondexter. Pondexter finished with eight points on 3-for-15 shooting. Tina Charles led the Liberty with 18 and 15 rebounds. Sugar Rodgers came off the bench to score 15 and Plenette Pierson had 14.
Angel McCoughtry led Atlanta (15-6) with 20 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
In the final moments, it would have been tempting to give the ball to Charles, who's been red hot, Laimbeer said. "I'd like to, but it's hard going to a post player. They can trap her and now there's no outlet pass. You have to go to a guard and [Pondexter] seems like a logical choice."
Two years ago, Pondexter would have been the only choice. But that doesn't matter, because yesterday, she was the best one.