Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer laid it out in the plainest of terms: If you do not score, you cannot win — no matter how tight the defense, no matter how slick the moves.
“We can’t make shots,” he said flatly after the Liberty’s latest late-game meltdown, this time resulting in an 85-79 loss to the Atlanta Dream in overtime at Madison Square Garden. “We need another sniper in the perimeter . . . I feel like we need to find somebody who can shoot the ball.”
It seems like a simple enough assessment, but one that was met with some resistance. “Sometimes,” said the newly re-signed Swin Cash diplomatically, “you can agree or disagree with your coach. I think we have a lot of players in here that can play the game and score the basketball.”
Said Tina Charles, somewhat less diplomatically: “I don’t agree with Bill when he says that.”
One thing everybody agrees with is that something has to change. That was obvious enough Tuesday afternoon, when the Liberty (2-2) squandered an 11-point third-quarter lead, eventually getting outscored 8-2 in overtime — a fairly accurate echo of their loss Saturday to Los Angeles, when they led by as many as eight in the third before losing in OT.
On Tuesday, they were outrebounded 23-9 in the fourth quarter and overtime and missed two layups in the waning seconds of regulation that could have won the game. Sugar Rodgers’ driving layup with 20 seconds left did tie the game at 77 to send it to OT, but the Dream scored the first six points of the extra frame to seal it.
Charles led all scorers with 29 points and had 10 rebounds, but she didn’t get much help. The Liberty was 1-for-10 on three-pointers and Rodgers (10 points) was the only other Liberty player in double figures. Guard Tiffany Hayes had 27 points to lead four Dream players in double digits. Angel McCoughtry, who missed most of the first half after a hard hit in the first quarter, had 15 points.
“It’s just wanting it more, just finishing plays, boxing out,” Charles said. “We do have go-to shooters. We have Sugar Rodgers, we have Shavonte Zellous, so we do have go-to shooters . . . We’ve got to have more of a sense of urgency.”
The Dream (3-1) only shot 30.3 percent from the field but went to the line 42 times, making 34 of their free throws.
The effort put something of a pall on a rollicking day at the Garden, where 14,503 spectators — most of them schoolchildren there for School Day — made sure there was no shortage of fan support. Tuesday also marked Cash’s return; the 36-year-old veteran was waived earlier this month for salary- cap considerations, and the Liberty had to wait 10 days to re-sign her, per league rules.
“We didn’t get the win which is a little disappointing, but I’m happy” to be back, she said after scoring six points in 14 minutes. “It definitely was strange . . . but I said from day one that I’m truly about trying to help this franchise get to where it needs to be to win a championship.”
What they have to do to win that championship, however — now that’s up for debate.