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Liberty double last season’s win total, now 4-1 after beating Sky in Chicago

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New York Liberty v Chicago Sky Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Liberty defeated the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon 93-85, a season-high in points and impressive bounceback after a tough loss to the Washington Mystics on Friday, when they lost by 29. The game counted for the Commissioner’s Cup competition, in which the team is now 3-1.

Only the Connecticut Sun, who’s undefeated after four games, has a better record in the 12-team league, a big upside from last season’s 2-20 record in the “wubble.”

Sabrina Ionescu once again led the team with 19 points and 12 assists, tying her career-high, while also nailing five 3-pointers and seven of her 13 field goals overall. Ionescu leads all WNBA players in 3-pointers made so far season. Here are her game highlights:

Meanwhile, Betnijah Laney had her fifth straight 20 point performance, and has now scored at least 20 points in each Liberty contest so far this year. Laney became the first Liberty player to start the year scoring 20+ four times in a row in the last game. The only Liberty players to score 20 in any 5 or more consecutive games are Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter.

After playing overseas and being in health and safety protocols to start the year, Natasha Howard made her long-awaited debut against the Sky. She replaced Kylee Shook in the starting lineup, slated alongside Ionescu, Sami Whitcomb, Laney, and Michaela Onyewere. Howard scored 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting and grabbed a team high of 7 rebounds.

Postgame, Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins evaluated Howard’s performance:

“She looked a little sped up at first. A little jumpy as should be expected with no practices, just coming in and starting. She did do a great job knocking down that first jumper, [and] gave us a little bit of momentum. And I think her ability to cut and move without the ball and catch tough passes and finish them is something that we are really going to benefit from, we got to see that a little bit in the second half. As she gets more and more comfortable, we’re gonna be able to utilize her in different ways. But I told her multiple times how good it was to have her in there.”

Despite the absence of Candace Parker, the Chicago Sky still proved to be a formidable opponent. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot had a season-high 16 assists to go along with 14 points, while guard Diamond DeShields led the team in scoring with a season-high 22 points.

Chicago center Astou Ndour-Fall added 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field.

Despite New York’s hot shooting in the first half, the Sky kept it close - thanks in no small part to a large number of turnovers from the Liberty. Even though the Liberty finished with 20 turnovers on the night, they were able to lock in defensive with a 10-block outing.

Forward Ruthy Hebard scored 15 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, and gave Liberty defenders - notably Michaela Onywere - trouble down low. Hubard played with Sabrina Ionescu in college at Oregon, and Sabrina spoke on how it was seeing her friend postgame:

“Yeah, she played great. I mean, she’s playing with one of the best point guards in the world. And so it’s really nice to see her continuing to grow from college and continuing to learn the game and honestly, growing her game, I think she’s continuing to get stronger, smarter, extending her game a little bit, you know, watching film, she started shooting a little bit better, just getting more confidence. And so it was really nice, definitely weird, you know, going up against her sometimes at the free throw line, we’d exchange a couple words and talk. And, you know, we’re friends.”

Here are the game highlights:

Sabrina everywhere

You’d have a hard time getting away from Sabrina Ionescu Sunday on ESPN ... even during commercials. The increasingly popular Ionescu appeared in two ads, one for State Farm with Chris Paul...

And another for NIKE. Under the WNBA collective bargaining agreement, Ionescu earns only $69,000 this year playing for the Liberty.

What’s Next?

The Liberty face the Dallas Wings tomorrow at Barclays Center at 7 p.m. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was rescheduled due to the Brooklyn Nets playoff schedule. The game will be broadcast on YES and Twitter.

An executive at BSE Global, Joe Tsai’s holding company, reminds us that same arena capacity rules that apply to the Nets and Knicks also govern Liberty games at Barclays. The official said they’ll Interested to see what the Libs get when they return home. New York averaged 9,888 at Madison Square Garden in 2017 before James Dolan moved them to Westchester where they averaged a fraction of that. Women’s sports, of course, are much more popular now.

In two games at Barclays in 2019, the Liberty drew 7,715 fans to a regular season game against the Seattle Storm and 4,155 for an exhibition game vs. China’s national team.