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Despite celebrity sightings, Liberty fall to Sky in second straight game, 91-68

Despite a Barclays Center fan contingent that included a two-time NBA champ, a Super Bowl champ, a Grammy Award winner and a billionaire couple (who also own the home team), the Liberty fell to the Chicago Sky for the second time in three days, 91-68.

The Liberty just seem to struggle in two game mini-series. They suffered two blowout losses in Vegas to the Aces last week, and have now suffered the same fate to the Chicago Sky this week. After losing to the Sky by 20 points on Tuesday, New York got blown out again on Thursday, this time by 23 points. The Sky led by as many as 30 points, but New York fought back and won the second half 41-36.

It was the Sky’s seventh straight win. The Sky is now 9-7, the Liberty 7-8.

Rookie standout Michaela Onyewere led New York with 16 points. The first year forward out of UCLA struggled in the first half, shooting 1-of-10 from the field and having trouble getting layups to fall. In the second half, however, she bounced back with 11 points in the final two frames of action.

Postgame, head coach Walt Hopkins praised Onyewere’s performance, saying: “She did a great job being aggressive. When she goes off of two feet, she tends to draw fouls and finish better. She’s had a habit of going off one foot. I was really happy with the way she attacked — she got into the paint at will.”

Teammate Kylee Shook added; “Michaela’s an amazing player, amazing person. She gives 100% effort every night, so it’s not a surprise she played as she did. Offensively, she kept attacking. Shots weren’t falling so she got to the rim and score.”

Thursday night’s game was the Liberty’s annual Pride Night, where they celebrated LGBTQ culture. The Liberty held a panel with players Sami Whitcomb and Jazmine Jones answered questions as it was live streamed to the public.

Betnijah Laney and Sami Whitcomb added 14 points apiece as starters on the wing, but the Liberty ultimately fell very short of the needed offensive output to overcome Chicago’s scoring onslaught. A second straight cold game from behind the arc — 4-of-25 — as well as the usual problem with turnovers —21 this time— certainly didn’t help New York’s case.

Sabrina Ionescu played a mere 13 minutes after leading the team in minutes with 27 on Tuesday. Ionescu’s minutes will continue to fluctuate as she returns from her ankle tendonitis injury, head coach Walt Hopkins had warned pre-game. When asked post-game how long these up-and-down minutes would continue, Hopkins said that he was unsure and that it would depend on her rest during the Olympic break, which begins July 15 and runs through August 11. Ionescu was not selected Team USA.

Despite not stuffing the stat sheet, Liberty rookie DiDi Richards had a tangible impact on tonight’s game even in limited minutes. Richards has been an energy spark plug all year and that showed against the Sky. In her ten minutes, the Liberty outscored Chicago by 12 points. That +/- is by far the highest on the team. Post-game, Whitcomb commented on her teammate’s energy: “It’s what DiDi does... it’s different opportunities, different games that she gets those minutes. She capitalizes and makes the most of them. It’s her style, it’s her DNA. She works hard, she’s got good hands, she’s athletic.”

The Chicago Sky were led by Kahleah Copper and Diamond DeShields, who each scored 18 points on 57.1 percent and 53.8 percent shooting from the field, respectively. Courtney Vandersloot had 13 points and 9 assists while Candace Parker added 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman attended Thursday night’s game, sitting alongside Nets governor Joe Tsai and his wife Clara Wu Tsai, who’s the Liberty’s co-governor. The Nets have been raking the rounds recently; head coach Steve Nash attended the Liberty game on Tuesday, and Durant was at a Mets game last night. Durant was seen taking photos with fans and greeting friends postgame.

Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson and his wide receiver DK Metkalf were also at Barclays on Thursday as was Wilson’s wife, the singer/songwriter Ciara.

Here are the game highlights:

Despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the Liberty’s attendance has not risen dramatically. On Thursday, only 2,148 were on hand, about the same as what they drew in 2019 when they played at the Westchester County Center. Before James Dolan, then the Liberty owner, moved the team to Westchester, the team was drawing nearly 10,000 to Madison Square Garden.

Next up for the Liberty are the Atlanta Dream, who they’ll face for the second time this year on Saturday in Atlanta, kicking off yet another mini-series. The game will tip off at 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcast on the YES Network.