The Liberty celebrate their win after an WNBA game against...

The Liberty celebrate their win after an WNBA game against the Dallas Wings on Monday at Barclays Center. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Indeed, it’s very early. But look who has gone from worst to almost first.

The Liberty capped a back-to-back and grueling stretch of three games in four days and six in 11 by holding off Dallas, 88-81, Monday night at Barclays Center.

That moved them to 5-1, just a half-game back of 5-0 Connecticut for the best record in the WNBA. After going 2-20 in 2020, the Liberty have rebounded with their best start since the 2007 team began 5-1.

"It means a lot, especially with the questions about how we would look this year," Betnijah Laney said. "We’re proving a lot of people wrong."

Laney contributed 26 points to extend her Liberty record of scoring at least 20 in six straight games to open the season, and Sabrina Ionescu delivered 10 of her 15 points when it mattered the most — in the final four minutes.

That helped them beat a young Dallas team with a new coach who once upon a time took the first shot in Liberty history, in 1997. Vickie Johnson is their all-time leader in games played and stands second on their scoring, rebounding and assist lists.

"I’m a New York Liberty at heart," Johnson said before the game. "… But we came here to win."

She didn’t get her wish.

Sami Whitcomb and Natasha Howard buried threes early in the fourth quarter, helping swell the Liberty’s lead to 15. But Howard, who had 17 points and six rebounds, limped off with 7:03 left. There were no specifics afterward, just that she’s headed for tests Tuesday.

The lead soon shrunk. Marina Mabrey, who scored 21 for the Wings (1-2), converted a three-point play to cut it to 73-71 with 3:53 left.

Ionescu, the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, countered with a three. Mabrey scored inside, but Ionescu responded with a three-point play and two more free throws to make it 81-73.

"I can’t say enough about Sab’s willingness and ability to rise to the moment," coach Walt Hopkins said.

Laney added two from the line. Then so did Ionescu, and it was a 12-point game with 1:01 remaining. Arike Ogunbowale nailed two threes in the final minute to give her 24 points, but the margin never got closer than seven.

"I think we’ve been really tough and gritty," Whitcomb said. "We’ve been able to withstand other team’s runs, which is really hard sometimes."

It was tied 39-all at halftime. The Liberty held Dallas to just 11 points in the third and took a 61-50 advantage into the fourth.

"We’re grinding out these wins," Ionescu said, "finding ways to win."

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