For the New York Liberty, playoff chances went from improbable to reality in the space of 48 hours this weekend. It may not have been a dream sequence, but everything had to go right for them after they set the stage for Sunday’s unlikely events by beating the Washington Mystics, their main rival for the eighth and final post-season, on Friday night.
And it did!
After losing eight straight and nine of ten games following the WNBA Olympic Break, the Liberty hung on and beat the Mystics, 91-80, at Barclays Center Friday, then had to sit around and wait till Sunday and hope that the Mystics would lose to Minnesota Lynx at home and the Los Angeles Sparks would lose to the Dallas Wings. Mission accomplished.
With losses by both the Mystics and Sparks on the final day of the WNBA regular season, the Liberty ascended into the eighth and final playoff spot just as the clock hit zero. For their players and coaches, it was redemption as well as satisfaction.
Their playoff appearance Thursday will be the first for the Liberty since 2017, meaning it is the team’s first since the move to Brooklyn — and since being acquired by Joe and Clara Wu Tsai.
Liberty players — notably backup guard Jaz Jones — were active on social media sharing how they watched the game(s). Jones live-tweeted both matchups, cheering on the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx while appreciating the talents the WNBA has to offer...
She and two other teammates, rookies Michaela Onyenwere and Didi Richards watched the games together while keeping in touch with Natasha Howard who was home...
Then, after the Lynx lost, it was all impromptu celebration...
Reshanda Gray, Jazmine Jones, Michaela Onyenwere, and DiDi Richards are celebrating the Liberty’s first playoff berth since 2017 over on IG Live. #OwnTheCrown #SeafoamPostSzn #WNBA pic.twitter.com/R8Eu13x1CL— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) September 19, 2021
Sabrina Ionescu was just a little less excited...
Coach Walt Hopkins wasn’t online Sunday, but post-game Friday night, this is what he had to say about potentially entering the postseason:
“It would be a tremendous experience for us. The amount of experiences we can get are so important for the development of the team. It would mean a lot to everybody. We’re hopeful.”
He, Rebecca Allen and Betnijah Laney will all speak to the media Monday after practice at Barclays Center.
Indeed, New York entered the day as the tenth seed, but neither the Mystics nor Sparks were able to propel themselves into the last playoff spot by taking “win and you’re in” games. All three teams finished with 13-19 records, but New York held the tiebreaker among the trio due to their head-to-head records.
It was only two weeks ago that Joe and Clara Wu Tsai made a gesture that could very well have saved the season, surprising the Liberty and its travel team with spa treatment at a toney Napa Valley resort in between West Coast games.
Then, on Thursday, according to Just Women’s Sports, Hopkins had no-holds barred team meeting “where where everything was on the table. The players and coaches aired frustrations, held each other accountable and bought into the team-oriented culture they’re building in New York.”
Something worked because Friday night, they won and set the stage for Sunday. New York is a young team with rookies and second year players taking on big roles. In that context, the post-Olympic collapse wasn’t that surprising but the climb from last year’s 2-20 record to a playoff spot is a big deal.
The Liberty will play their first playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, a squad that New York has some history with from earlier in the season after a social media dispute. The game will air on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. ET and the Liberty will have a little bit of a surprise advantage. The win-or-go home contest, however, won’t be played at the Footprint Center, the team’s normal home venue “due to a scheduling conflict.” Instead, they’ll host the Liberty at Grand Canyon University. The Libs streak of luck could continue.
- Liberty players celebrate after making postseason for first time since 2017 - Sarah Valenzeuela - New York Daily News