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Turnovers doom Liberty in tough loss to the Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

When you’re shorthanded, you have practically no margin for error. You have to ensure everything you do is purposeful, crisp, and guiding you in the right direction. And when you’re facing an incredibly difficult task, that margin becomes even thinner.

The New York Liberty closed out a four games in seven nights stretch against the Connecticut Sun. After a good start to the game in which the Liberty jumped out to a 10-2 lead, things spiraled quickly as the Sun exerted their will and got some revenge for their Opening Night loss as they won 92-65 on Tuesday night at the Barclays Center.

In the early part of the season, you hope to build good habits that can carry you through the length of the season. In the pregame, Sandy Brondello talked about what she’s looking at as it relates to team success:

“I don’t think we should look at wins and losses right now. We need to look at execution, discipline, the little things that you can control. Effort, that’s a part of it. So that’s why I say what I say about process. We just gotta focus on doing our best job of executing our scout, but making sure we bring the appropriate effort and energy, communication, all the little little things that go into getting success. And hopefully, if we can do them, we can put ourselves in a better position to win.”

In the pregame, Brondello identified turnovers and rebounding as the team’s biggest points of concern. As it happens, they actually won the rebounding battle, 28-26. However, the turnovers, the turnovers, THE TURNOVERS!

Per Across the Timeline, the single game record for turnovers in a WNBA game belongs to the Utah Starzz, who turned it over 33 times against the Phoenix Mercury on August 17, 1997. In the first half, the team coughed it up 19 (yes, 19) times and the Sun took full advantage by scoring 25 fastbreak points. What made it even more difficult for the Liberty was that their two best players and main scoring options, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu, combined for ten of the 19 turnovers. In the postgame, Sandy Brondello spoke about the turnover woes and said:

“We didn’t handle pressure well at all. That was very obvious with the turnovers but some of them were unforced turnovers, too, and that’s just doing the little things a little bit better. Like I said, Connecticut are a tough team, give them that. But we’re a better team than what we showed. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

On the night, the team coughed it up 32 times, surpassing the record 31 turnovers they amassed in a win against the Mercury on August 11, 1998. Those 32 turnovers were also a single game record for the Sun defense. Postgame, Sun coach Curt Miller took responsibility for the lost last week as the gameplan was too conservative on Opening Night. The plan was to be more aggressive and disrupt the Liberty’s offensive flow.

In general, turnovers are bad, but live ball turnovers are especially fatal, as the Liberty found out the hard way

The Sun scored 92 points tonight, and 44 of them came off of Liberty turnovers. You’re tempting fate with numbers like that.

In the first meeting, Sabrina Ionescu was able to get downhill and cut up the Sun defense as her 25/8/6 paced the Liberty attack. We asked coach Miller about the team’s approach in guarding her tonight as compared to game one, and here’s how he responded:

“She was terrific in game one. We were a little bit conservative with our approach to guarding her and she took advantage of that, and we didn’t make an adjustment to that coverage soon enough. There was more attention given to her, we showed her different coverages, we gave her different looks, we tried not to be just a one look team on her tonight, and we sent a lot of attention to her. Now, it led to some other people getting open shots or some open plays, but there was a lot of focus by our unit out there to make it more difficult than we did in game one against Sabrina.”

Famous friends

Joining us at Barclays Center tonight was Liberty legend and Ring of Honor member, Kym Hampton

and Brooklyn Nets’ fan favorite and Mr. Everything, Bruce Brown!

As we know, BB is a free agent this summer and the Nets should open the piggybank up and pay him what he deserves. He’s been a great Net on and off the court and should be rewarded for it.

Health

WNBA: MAY 11 New York Liberty at Chicago Sky Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the pregame, Brondello mentioned that Jocelyn Willoughby will be out for “weeks” with a knee injury and Didi Richards will likely be out until the end of the month as well. Han Xu was a late scratch in the day with a non-COVID illness. Late in the third quarter, Sami Whitcomb looked like she hurt her ankle after Dijonai Carrington accidentally stepped on it, but she was able to play through it and avoid what appeared to be a serious injury. Lorela Cubaj got hit in the nose battling for a rebound in the fourth and did not return to the game. In the postgame, Brondello noted that she was bleeding from he nose and wasn’t in great shape to return to the game.

For those of you (like me) wondering if the Liberty can sign players to hardship contracts while Willoughby and Richards are out, this collective bargaining agreement and salary cap explainer from Her Hoop Stats could be helpful.

As our NBA friends across the way will tell you, health is of the utmost importance and the time off will help the Liberty rest, recover, relax, and recuperate. We asked coach Brondello about the message for the team heading into the week off, and she said:

Welcome back, Bec!

Rebecca Allen made her 2022 debut after completing her stint in international competition. With it being her first game of the season, rust was to be expected and she struggled, going 1-9 from the field and committing two turnovers in 22 minutes of action. She did score on a nice backdoor cut after a great pass from Laney

In the postgame, Brondello was asked about Allen’s return and said:

“She was a little bit rusty. She had no trainings, we just threw her back in. We didn’t really want to play her too many minutes, but we had to play her a little bit more now. So she just looked a bit out of sync with her teammates. That’s to be expected since it’s her first game back.”

Having Allen back will help give the Liberty some size and perimeter defense. The week off should give the team a much needed break and a chance to fine tune a few things and incorporate Allen into the flow of things.

The Winner’s Circle

Connecticut Sun v Indiana Fever Photo by A.J. Mast/NBAE via Getty Images

Hoopers hoop, and for DeWanna Bonner, she got right back down to business after flying straight from international play. DB had been up since 5 am, but it didn’t show on the court as she led the Sun in scoring with 16 points along with three assists and four steals. In the postgame, we asked if she felt any extra pressure with this being her first game of the season and all the expectations placed on the Sun this year. Here’s how she responded:

“No pressure. We haven’t proved anything. We haven’t won anything. We haven’t won a championship. We’re trying to get there. People think that we’re the hunted, but we’re not. We are the underdogs. We haven’t proved anything. We have a lot to prove to ourselves. But definitely no nervousness with this. We got a vet team, so if I didn’t get it going tonight, I think we have some pretty great options on our roster that I can find, so that was a good thing. I didn’t have to force anything. I just played my game, let it come to me, communicate with Curt when I needed a break and things like that.”

Pace has been one of the big questions surrounding the Sun this year, and Natasha Hiedeman was asked how the team keeps its foot on the gas pedal throughout the game:

“I would say the players we have, especially with (Alyssa Thomas) back now, we have a lot of players that can push the ball. So I think that we take pride in pushing the ball and keeping our tempo up because we have players that can do that and I feel like that’s our team.”

It’s always tough to establish early season rhythm in the W as roster shuffling and overseas commitments make things tough. Coach Miller observed that he’s only had one practice with the entire roster and in just about every season as head coach, he hasn’t had his starting lineup altogether for one day in training camp. It makes for tough sledding and with a five games in nine days stretch and a daunting West Coast trip that will see his team play three games in four nights, a blowout win like this will have long term benefits.

Looking ahead

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

When you’ve been gone for a long time, it takes time to get back up to speed and playing like you want to. It’s been a long road back for Asia Durr (AD), and tonight they got their most minutes of the season and was the only Liberty player not to turn it over. In 11 minutes, AD scored seven points and snagged a steal. Brondello spoke about AD’s night and said:

“AD took the opportunity and were aggressive, and that’s all I can ask. They’re making really good progress and they just have to stay ready to be quite honest, and take the opportunities when it’s presented to them.”

Even on a rough night like tonight, you can see glimpses of what the Liberty offense will look like when everything is going well:

You see the team moving at a quick pace, they’ve got two feet in the paint, there’s good ball movement, and the possession ends with a wide open corner three pointer for their best player. That’s the good stuff and something they’ll try to

In the postgame, Betnijah Laney spoke about the conversation in the locker room following the game and said:

“Just about being better, all the little things, all the things that we need to do to do better because that’s not who we want to be. We don’t want to come out and be like that because that was embarrassing, and just trying to figure out what we know. We talked about it, the things that we need to do, both on and off the court, to make sure that we don’t look like that again.”

Stef Dolson spoke about what she as one of the team leaders needs to do in order to create success and move forward:

“Act on the things that we’ve been saying. I think we’ve done a lot of talking, but some leaders show by their actions, and I think that’s something that the two of us could both do. I think we’ve talked a lot, so I’m gonna show it in the practices, show that I’m willing to change, I’m willing to do certain things differently to be better and to make the team better.”

For as rough of a loss as this was, it’s still early in the season and the Liberty are a new, young team trying to figure things out amidst a tough WNBA landscape.

As the roster is fully present and injured players heal, they’ll have a chance to fully lock in, build that natural chemistry, and develop a comfort level that will allow them to grow. You never wanna sink too low after a blowout loss and for the Liberty going forward, it’s an opportunity to diagnose what hasn’t worked thus far, where they can get better, and don't let the rough start get you down.

Next up

Minnesota Lynx v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty will get a break before returning to action next Tuesday as they begin a three game road trip in Minneapolis against the Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx got their first win of the 2022 season after a thrilling road win against the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night.