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Liberty beat Fever in re-match, match last season’s win total

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New York Liberty v Indiana Fever Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

“It does mean something.”

That’s what New York Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins had to say about the team matching last year’s win total on Sunday: a mere two victories down at the Bradenton “wubble.” And he might have added, it was also the first time in five years that the Liberty has started a season 2-0.

The Liberty were able to pull out the 73-65 victory in gritty fashion against the Indiana Fever in Indianapolis Sunday, a team they had beaten Friday night thanks to a Sabrina Ionescu game-winner in the season opener. For the Fever, it was their first home loss in nearly two years.

Betnijah Laney once again led the Liberty in scoring, scoring 20 points on her former team. Laney, the Liberty’s big free agent signing, now has 50 points in two games. Afterwards, standout rookie Michaela Onyewere described her teammate as a “bucket.” Onyewere, the sixth overall pick out of UCLA in this year’s WNBA Draft, had a good game herself with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting and stout defense.

Sophomore Jazmine Jones, who made an All-Rookie team last year with the Liberty, bounced back from a disappointing first game with 10 points and a perfect 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point stripe. Both triples came at timely moments, snapping momentum the Fever had built.

Ionescu was more a playmaker on Sunday, following her 25-point effort on Friday with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Friday’s Barclays Center showdown was an offensive showcase, with the final score reading 90-87 for New York. Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, was more of a defensive grind. The Liberty got off to a blazing hot start in the first quarter, scoring 31 points on 57.9 percent shooting from the field.

The next three quarters, though, were another story. New York scored 39 total on only 39.5 percent field goal shooting. The Fever weren’t much different though, shooting 30.6 from the field.

Moreover, on Friday, Indiana was able to kill New York with offensive rebounds, grabbing 19 in total. They had eight in total on Sunday and only one by halftime!

Pregame, Hopkins told the media that the Liberty’s defense — a major part of the team’s hoped-for identity this season — was actually very stout if you disregarded Friday’s deficit in offensive rebounding:

“We have to do a better job with the offensive rebounds. I don’t know if you guys have looked at some of the other numbers; when you take out offensive rebounds, how damn good our defense was. It was ridiculous. The points per possession, the field goal percentage, unbelievably good.

“So it’s really a matter of now, trying to find ways to combine what makes that defense so good - and a lot of that is the position-less basketball, a lot of that is the players that can guard and play multiple positions - and combining that with finding ways to combat one of the bigger teams in the league and their ability to get on the offensive glass.”

On Sunday, though, there was no need to disregard it. Hopkins was proven correct and the Liberty came out with the win. Here’s what Sabrina Ionescu had to say about the improved rebounding efforts:

“There was a huge emphasis on us guards rebounding. Obviously, our post players had their hands full with great post players from the Indiana team so we knew we had to crack down and grab some of the loose ones. You know, I think our guards are really good rebounders and we have to continue to bring that every single night especially when our posts have great matchups on the offensive rebounds so I think that was a huge key to us winning this game — not allowing them to have as many offensive rebounds as they did the previous night and we just have to continue to do that moving forward.”

The Liberty face the Minnesota Lynx, where Hopkins honed his craft as an assistant coach, at Barclays Center Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the YES App.

Sunday’s game also marked the season debut of Rebecca Allen, and her first Liberty game in two years.

Allen, another top defender, had been away with overseas commitments and stuck in health and safety protocols, but her presence is clearly more than welcome. Hopkins had this to say about his Aussie forward postgame:

“It was so odd to see her warming up, moving around, being a part of it, because it’s something we’ve thought and about talked about for so long,” said Hopkins.

Allen finished with three points, five rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes off the bench.

Kelsey Mitchell led the way in scoring with 16 points but it was Danielle Robinson and her defense that was arguably most impressive. She only scored 13 points, but had four steals and four forced charges as well.