Natasha Howard Credit: Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images photo

It came down to the final game of the regular season, but the New York Liberty pulled out the win with a tense 87–83 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday. The victory earned the Liberty a return trip to the WNBA playoffs. Forward Natasha Howard and guard Marine Johannes both had 18 points. Center Stefanie Dolson contributed 15 points. Much to the relief of coach Sandy Brondello, all players on the roster were healthy and available to play.

“We talk about our culture and we want to be a united team; it’s a sisterhood and being gritty,” said Brondello. “You can’t win [alone]. Someone can have a tough game for us. That’s why you have a bench. I thought our bench was fantastic. It really started with Marine.”

After the game Brondello gave props to the Dream and its coach Tanisha Wright, a former Liberty player. More than half the head coaches heading into the playoffs, including Brondello, are former WNBA players.

Brondello noted that the Liberty is a team with considerable depth, but injuries hampered the full impact this season. Having forward Betnijah Laney back in action has been valuable. She noted all the players did their job as presented.

“Everyone goes into a season trying to make the playoffs,” said Brondello. “I would have liked to just have had a healthy team to see where we could have finished with a healthy Betnijah Laney. That’s a big difference. You take a really good player out of any team and obviously their record is going to be a little less than what you would expect.

“I think we found a way and we grew as a team both on and off the court,” she added. “They understand how to play with each other a bit better. We want sustainable success. This gives us confidence as we move forward. It’s the start of a journey and hopefully it will be a long one.”

This year the WNBA returns to a more conventional playoff format with all eight teams participating from the first round. The Liberty takes on the defending WNBA Champion Chicago Sky. Game one was played last night in Chicago and game two is on Saturday. The top seed in the playoffs is the Las Vegas Aces. The other teams heading into the postseason are the Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm, Washington Mystics, Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury.

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