Liberty 94, Dream 88
Spencer knocked down her lone shot of the game, tying it with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, and the Liberty went on to beat the defending Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream 94-88 in overtime Sunday.
Plenette Pierson scored 25 points to lead the Liberty in the opener for both teams, a rematch of last year's conference finals won by the Dream in a sweep.
Leilani Mitchell made a clinching 3-pointer in overtime, but that wouldn't have been possible without Spencer's clutch basket.
Though she played just 5 minutes, the backup forward was on the court when New York set up an inbounds play with 3.2 seconds left, trailing 79-77. Atlanta got a hand on the ball but Spencer wound up with an open 10-footer on the baseline. She swished it to force overtime.
''It was a broken play,'' said John Whisenant, the Liberty's third coach in three seasons. ''We wanted to get it in to Plenette or Nicole (Powell), and it got deflected to Sidney Spencer. She's a great shooter. She can make an open shot.''
The Liberty took advantage of an Atlanta team missing its top player, Angel McCoughtry, who sprained her left knee in camp and didn't dress.
Iziane Castro Marques led Atlanta with 19 points, Sancho Lyttle added 18 and Lindsey Harding doled out nine assists in her Dream debut. But Harding also missed a late free throw that could've put it away.
''Angel brings so much to our game,'' Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said. ''When you take away 25 or 30 points, it affects the rest of the team.''
The game was tight throughout, never getting into double figures for either team. Atlanta appeared to be in control after pulling out to its biggest lead, 68-62, with 5 minutes to go.
New York bounced back, taking advantage of the Dream's struggles at the foul line (18 of 28). Still, the home team was in good shape when Lyttle hit a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left, then came up with a big steal as Cappie Pondexter tried to feed the ball inside to Pierson.
The Liberty was forced to foul, and Harding hit only one of two free throws with 19 seconds left to give New York a chance, down 77-74.
Nicole Powell took advantage, dribbling around in the corner until she spotted the slightest of openings. She got her feet behind the line and launched a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net with 9 seconds remaining. She finished with 17 points.
Harding made up for her missed free throw, driving into the lane and putting up a shot over Pondexter that bounced off the rim twice before dropping through. But there was still enough time after a timeout for Spencer to hit the tying basket.
''We definitely let this game slip away at the end,'' Castro Marques said. ''We had it in our control.''
In overtime, Coco Miller hit a 3-pointer that cut New York's lead to 89-86 with 39 seconds remaining. The Liberty pulled off two dangerous passes before Mitchell wound up with an open look in the corner. Instead of running more clock, she went ahead and put up a 3 that finished off the Dream.
Last year, Atlanta swept New York to reach the WNBA finals for the first time. Before the game, the Dream raised a banner honoring their conference title - the first for any team that plays at Philips Arena, also home to the NBA Hawks and former home of the NHL Thrashers, who recently announced they are moving to Winnipeg.
Atlanta was swept in three straight games by Seattle in the finals, losing by a total of only seven points. Looking to build on its playoff run, the Dream addressed its main need at point guard by trading for Harding on draft day.
NOTES: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took part in the pregame ceremony and stayed around to cheer on the Dream from a front row seat. ... Kia Vaughn fouled out for New York in overtime. ... Miller added 16 points for Atlanta. ... Pierson also had 10 rebounds, leading New York to a 34-32 edge on the boards. ... The Liberty went 10 of 11 at the foul line.