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Liberty try to save their season in finale vs. Mystics

2021 New York Liberty Media Day Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Out of steam and almost out of time. The New York Liberty went into Wednesday night’s game needing to win to keep their faint playoff chances alive. They ran into the Connecticut Sun, and the Sun showed why they’re the top team in the league. Connecticut set a franchise record for consecutive wins and put another major blow to NY’s playoff chances with a 29 point win. This is the last game of the 2021 regular season for the Liberty and it’s a disappointing end to what had been a promising season.

The opponent tonight will be the Washington Mystics. Like the Liberty, the Mystics are fighting for the eighth spot. However, unlike the Liberty, the Mystics have been on the winning end of things recently. They won their second straight game on Sunday with an impressive road victory in Chicago against the Sky.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and Twitter on TV. Tip after 7 PM.

Injuries

Jocelyn Willoughby is out. Reshanda Gray missed Wednesday’s game with a non-COVID illness. No word on if she plays. Kylee Shook hurt her knee and couldn’t return to action against the Sun. No word on if she plays tonight. Natasha Howard tweaked her ankle, but toughed it out. Postgame she said she was good, so she’ll be out here.

Elena Delle-Donne is still dealing with a back injury and won’t be here. Ariel Atkins suffered a death in the family and is away from the team. Myisha Hines-Allen has been out with a non-COVID related illness, but she’s back and will be playing without any restrictions. Mystics coach Mike Thibault was diagnosed with COVID-19 (he’s vaccinated) but he won’t be on the sidelines tonight.

The game

Washington won the first game in May and the Liberty took the second one in July. This is the final meeting between the two teams this season.

It’s fan appreciation night, and even with the rocky end to the season, the Liberty succeeded in establishing a home in Brooklyn after years away from NYC. They have more ground to make up to regain their footprint among sports fans in town, but they’re getting there and a non-COVID influenced 2022 promises to be in the cards. Keep growing and nurturing a sense of community with the fans and the success will come.

The Liberty are going to need help to make it in, but it won’t matter if they lose tonight. Handle business here and hope the teams around the league chip in to push you past the finish line. But to see how they can get it, allow the excellent Jackie Powell to break it down:

Simple enough, right?

Natasha Cloud has stepped up amidst all the injuries her team has faced. She gives her team good defense, has been doing a good job running the offense, and can make some plays for herself as well. Cloud will likely get the Sabrina Ionescu assignment. Ionescu is finding her shot as she’s shot above 40 percent from the field in each of the past three games. She had a season high nine turnovers on Wednesday, six of which came after halftime. Most of them came from her trying to force passes into openings that weren’t there, so she just has to remember to play with pace, poise, and rely on what’s helped her play well.

The Mystics have had to deal with a flurry of issues, COVID protocols, injuries, etc, this year, but they’re still fighting. Coach Thibault spoke about that with the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner and said:

“It’s not going to be a perfect world. You get dealt a bad hand; crap happens. It’s how you handle it. You learn a lot about yourself and others when you go through tough times.”

You get knocked down, you get back up and continue the fight.

Betnijah Laney has made a star turn this season, and that includes a cover for the inaugural WSlam Magazine!

Laney has shown herself to be a star in her debut season in NY and will be someone that will help guide the franchise back to contention in the future. Came across an ESPN article that listed who their experts felt would win the major awards this year, and I’m hoping Laney gets some love on one of the All-WNBA teams this season. She deserves

All year we’ve talked about the Liberty’s turnover woes, and it came back to bite them on Wednesday. They turned it over 28 times and the Sun scored 23 points off of those turnovers. You gotta make the most out of every opportunity and being loose with the ball makes the job ten times more challenging.

It’s never easy to come back after being out, and it’s even harder when you’re back for what is essentially a playoff game. Hines-Allen has been out of action since August 31 and is back at the right time for what has been a shorthanded Mystics club.

Luckily for the Liberty, the Mystics aren’t as big in the frontcourt as the Mystics are. With their center rotation less than 100 percent, they might be able to survive with (possibly) one center available to play. Might be.

Tonight will also be the first sports event in the city since the imposition of Mayor Bill deBlasio’s order on indoor venues. You can’t get in unless you’re received at least one jab of a COVID vaccine. If you’re fully vaccinated, there will be no restrictions on you, but if you’ve received only one of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you’ll have to wear a mask once inside. The Liberty sent out a reminder Thursday...

Player to watch: Tina Charles

We mentioned Jonquel Jones was the MVP in the Wednesday game preview. Tina Charles might object to that. The former Liberty legend has the weight of the Mystics franchise on her shoulders and she has delivered in every way imaginable. Her usage rate is at the highest it’s been in her career and she’s rewarded coach Mike Thibault’s trust in her by leading the league in scoring at 24.3 points a night. She can score in the post, but she has also been able to expand her range on the court and takes five threes a night, making them at a more than respectable 36.8 percent clip. It would be quite something to see a former Liberty player knock her hometown team out of the playoffs in the last game of the season.

Natasha Howard hasn’t played against the Mystics this season, and she’s going to have her hands full tonight. She tweaked her ankle Wednesday night, but she’ll be playing tonight. Walt Hopkins mentioned she’s slowly but surely regaining her footing. She had nine turnovers against the Sun, but if she cuts that in half and gets more good looks for herself, the Liberty can win the season finale. With a young team such as the Liberty, the more time they have together, the better they’ll be in the long term. It may be grim now, but the future is more than bright.

From the Vault

Let’s take a quick trip back to the Liberty’s best moment of the second half

and the first half

More reading: Bullets Forever and Swish Appeal

One final note...

On behalf of Alec, Bob, and the entire staff, I wanted to thank y’all for coming to us for Liberty and WNBA coverage throughout the summer. We do our best to provide A+ basketball coverage year round and we hope we were able to accomplish that for you guys. We appreciate y’all and here’s to many more great days ahead!