They almost pulled off a miracle.
On Friday night, the New York Liberty played host to the young and energetic Indiana Fever. The Liberty fell behind by ten going into the fourth quarter and fought their way back into it to force overtime. However, they couldn’t bring it all the way home for the hometown crowd and suffered a tough loss, falling 96-90.
Throughout her tenure as coach, Brondello has spoken of her “non-negotiables” and in the pregame, she identified them as:
When the Liberty fell behind by ten entering the fourth quarter and trailed by six in overtime, they could’ve let go of the rope and given up. However, they fought back each time and showed the energy, tenacity and intensity that New York basketball needs at this time. Each time they got down, they got back up and kept themselves in the game. It’s the mark of a team that has potential and the ability to stay in, they just have to start stronger so they don’t have to climb out of deficits.
The Liberty were led by Sabrina Ionescu, who topped all scorers on the night with 31 points on 11—of-20 from the field (5-of-10 from 3-point range) along with a game high seven assists as well. Ionescu played the entire fourth quarter and showed the superstar potential that has hoops fans all around the world excited for this Liberty team. With the team down three with 20 seconds to go, Ionescu got the rock and delivered another magical Barclays moment:
She talked about her fourth and what helped be successful:
“We just continued to go to the actions that worked for us, whether it was (Betnijah Laney) coming off screens, using the pick and roll, making extra passes, we were using drag screens. We were just trying to find the matchups that we wanted, the plays that we wanted to execute to give us the best chance at winning.
She also had the assist of the night
When the Liberty are forcing turnovers and playing fast, they are the best versions of themselves. They create easy buckets, The pace of this game was 103 and the Liberty scored 24 points off of 20 Fever turnovers.
In the pregame, Brondello mentioned that rebounding would be an area to watch closely as the Fever are one of the smaller teams in the WNBA. In a surprising twist, the Liberty lost the rebounding battle by 24 as the Fever out quicked and outworked the hometown squad. We asked coach Brondello about the disparity in the postgame press conference and she said:
“We’ve all gotta make sure we’re getting in there and helping (the post players). That just hurt us, 57-33. We got smashed on the boards. We didn’t get beat, we got smashed on the boards. There’s areas we need to get better at, it’s crazy that we could still stay in the game, quite honestly.”
NaLyssa Smith outworked the Libs on the board as she came away with 17 rebounds, the second highest single game mark in the W this season (via Across the Timeline).
Stef Dolson wasn’t able to make much of an impact as she was in foul trouble for much of the evening. If there’s been one weak spot for the Liberty so far, it’s that they haven’t had much success in completing defensive possessions and snagging rebounds. For the Fever, Queen Egbo was a deterrent on the interior. She blocked two shots and snagged 14 rebounds in her 31 minutes of playing time. The Liberty missed a lot of shots at the rim, and Egbo’s rim protection proved to be an obstacle they couldn’t overcome.
With Dolson in foul trouble, the Liberty went small in the fourth quarter and overtime, going with one big and four perimeter players. It was something fans remember well from last season, and something the players are familiar with. Laney broke down the small ball lineup and its purpose:
“We just needed to make an adjustment, and that’s what we did. Yeah it is something that we’ve done in the past so it did feel a little familiar, but we just wanted to give them a different look, and then we changed again. So it was a coach’s decision, she thought that it was the best thing for us in that moment, and we just went with it.”
Finding the groove
For Betnijah Laney, I think it’s best to ignore the overall statline. The 6-of-17 from the field isn’t pretty, but Laney did get better as the game progressed and was the team’s scoring engine in overtime. Ball movement has been one of the keys for the Liberty and this possession in the fourth quarter exemplifies everything the Liberty want to do on offense:
You see the space from having shooters on the court, Howard is always a threat coming downhill on pick and rolls and is unselfish, and with Laney spotted up on the strong side, it’s an easy connection. Laney is still working to keep that rhythm for the whole game, and she spoke about it in the postgame:
Betnijah Laney, on finding a rhythm in overtime to keep the game close. "Just staying focused, staying locked in. Not allowing the shots that didn't go in to affect me, but to stay positive." (Q: @busyxb, @NetsDaily) #OwnTheCrown #WNBA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 14, 2022
Natasha Howard had a rough night at the office as she went a career worst 1-15 from the field. Even with her struggles, her teammates still have faith in her and will provide encouragement to their All Star forward. Laney spoke on that as well
Betnijah Laney on how Liberty teammates lifted Natasha Howard, who struggled tonight, shooting 1/15. "[We made sure] to keep encouraging her. We all know that Tash is capable... trying to find her easy looks and stay in that next-play mentality." (Q: @ClassicJpow) #OwnTheCrown— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 14, 2022
Didi Richards missed the first two games of the season as she was dealing with a hamstring injury. In pregame, Brondello mentioned that she wanted to try Richards at point guard while also managing her minutes so as not to overdo it in her first game of the season. Richards played four minutes in the first half, but was ruled out for the rest of the game after tweaking her hamstring. As Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers fans can tell you in great detail with James Harden, hamstring injuries are tricky to deal with so we’ll see how Didi heals.
AD also made their return after tonight after missing Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Sky with an illness. They only played 3:20, but did keep the tempo up for the Liberty. With two games coming up before a week off, we’ll see if they get some more playing time.
Rebecca Allen has completed her overseas obligations and will be reporting to the team tomorrow. It’s highly unlikely she suits up for the team immediately as she will need time to get reacclimated to being back in the United States and getting reacquainted with her teammates.
The Liberty are back at it on Sunday afternoon as they take on the Dallas Wings at the Barclays Center.