Natasha Howard delivers playoff-clinching win for Liberty over Dream

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

NEW YORK — Natasha Howard scored 18 points and hit a big 3-pointer in the final minute as New York defeated Atlanta 87-83 on Sunday, sending the Liberty to the WNBA playoffs and eliminating the Dream.

With New York leading 80-79 in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Howard hit a 24-footer to put the Liberty up by four with 55 seconds remaining. The Dream extended their ensuing possession by collecting a couple of offensive rebounds before Aari McDonald made a driving layup to trail 83-81 with 26 seconds left. Sabrina Ionescu and Howard both made two free throws for New York, and the Liberty led by six before McDonald made another layup to close the scoring.

The win, New York’s sixth in its past eight games, clinched a playoff spot. The Liberty (16-20) will be the seventh or eighth seed depending on the outcome of a later game between Phoenix and Chicago. A Phoenix win would give the Mercury the seventh seed; a Chicago win would give New York the seventh seed.

Atlanta (14-22), which did not earn a playoff berth, lost its fourth in a row and sixth in its past eight games.

Rhyne Howard had 24 points and seven assists for the Dream. Monique Billings added 15 points, Maya Caldwell 14 and McDonald 11.

Marine Johannes scored 18 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting for New York. Stefanie Dolson added 15 points and 12 rebounds.