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Online Fans Watch Liberty OT Thriller

What an amazing opening weekend for the WNBA and the Liberty. Not only did the league celebrate the start of another season, New York, one of the flagship franchises kicked off its first season playing home games in Newark. OK, the Libs haven’t actually held their regular season home opener yet – that happens June 11 – but they did begin the 2011 campaign with a brilliant overtime victory.

That’s right, the Liberty defeated the defending Eastern Conference champs, the Dream, in Atlanta 94-88 during their Sunday afternoon showdown. What’s that you ask, where did I watch it?

Good question. I’ll tell you.

For 15 years, the WNBA has made strides to showcase the best women’s professional basketball. But year after year, the fans who can’t make it out to the arenas struggle to locate their team on television. This season it no different.

Two opening weekend games appeared on national television: rookie Maya Moore’s Minnesota Lynx vs. Los Angeles and defending champion Seattle against Diana Taurasi and Phoenix. ABC Sports and NBA-TV couldn’t hook up the Liberty on Sunday, so you’d at least expect a local broadcast, right?

Though they play in the country’s largest media market, the Liberty couldn’t even score a slot on TV, a puzzling notion considering they’re owned and operated by Madison Square Garden. The last time I checked, MSG has its own cable network.

Let’s look at MSG’s on-air lineup on Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m., the approximate running time of the Libs’ overtime game. From 3 to 4 p.m., there was “MSG Countdown in 60”; 4 to 5 p.m. was the “Top 50 Moments in Garden History”; 5 to 6 p.m. was “The Best of Boomer and Carton”. In case you haven’t realized, those are all re-runs.

It’s a shame that the powers that be are hiding the riveting play of Liberty games. If you want to argue that the team doesn’t draw fans, I contend that New York does: the Liberty drew 11,000 fans a game last year – tops in the league. And they win! What more can they do to get noticed?

Luckily, the WNBA this season has set up LiveAccess, giving fans at home the opportunity to watch games in real time on their computers. For those who knew about the service, which is available for free with a valid user account, they were able to watch every second of the action between the Liberty and Dream. The viewer also has the ability to access working box scores, play-by-play action and statistics. Oh, and users can also chat with others online and discuss the action as it happens.

There was plenty of action, too, especially in the final 20 seconds of regulation time. After Atlanta took a 77-74 lead with 18.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, New York’s Nicole Powell knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game with 8.8 ticks on the clock.

The Dream then went ahead when Lindsey Harding’s rim-rocking shot fell through the rim with 7.9 seconds left. Sidney Spencer, however, sent the game into overtime, hitting a short baseline jumper to knot the score at 79-79.

The Liberty dominated the overtime session in the same manner they did in the first half, using a new game plan geared toward defense and rebounding. Plenette Pierson played a strong all-around game, finishing with a team-high 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Powell finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Cappie Pondexter chipped in with 12 points and 11 assists.

As the season goes on, more WNBA and Liberty games will get air time on NBA-TV and the ESPN networks. They’ll almost always be available online through LiveAccess. But let’s be fair. The Garden owns the Knicks and Rangers, and their NBA and NHL regular season games are always televised. MSG has a winner in the Liberty – it’s time that the entire region knows about it.

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