The thing about losing streaks is that once a bad play happens in a game, things pile up and everything gets out of hand quickly. Once that happens, a close game turns into a blowout and you’re stuck wondering what the heck just happened.
The game tonight between the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm was close early. Despite the Storm jumping out to a nice-sized lead, the Libs punched their way back into it and were hanging around, trailing by six points early in the second quarter. Then, the game turned on this play
...and that was all she wrote. Breanna Stewart’s 3-pointer kicked off a 16-0 run that took Seattle’s lead from six all the way up to 22. The Liberty battled back a bit in the third, but they were too far behind to make it reasonably close. losing 92-61. The L was their seventh in a row and are now 1-7 on the young WNBA season.
On Friday night, the Liberty turned it over 24 times which led to 29 Seattle points. Sunday it was 17, an improvement but still awful. The Storm are the best at forcing turnovers in the WNBA and the Liberty have had the turnover bug all season long.
Those are a dangerous mix for a team that’s already short handed and as the Storm won the game in the first half, they took full advantage. The Libs coughed it up 12 times in the first half and the Storm got 14 points out of them. We keep saying it, Sandy Brondello keeps saying it, but it’s true. The team HAS to do a better job of taking care of the basketball if they want to win games. Live ball turnovers allow teams to attack your transition defense and for a shorthanded team that only has nine players available right now, having to constantly be on the defensive will tire you out.
When you lose like this, you start to wonder what to do to get out of it. Brondello mentioned the team’s slow starts and floated the idea of possibly changing the starting five to get some more energy at the beginning of the game. We asked Michaela Onyenwere about staying positive amidst this streak:
Michaela Onyenwere on staying positive: "That's the battle right now. We've lost seven in a row: that's tough as a competitor and athlete... we just have to figure it out, whether it's Xs and Os, us, work ethic." (Q: @busyxb) #WNBA #OwnTheCrown— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 30, 2022
She was also asked what she can do to get the team back on track during long scoring droughts:
“In those moments it has to be our defense, but even then sometimes we let our offense dictate that. It has to be a team wide shift. Sometimes we’re not always gonna have the perfect shooting night and it hasn’t been like that for a while, and so we have to hang out hat on defense, and we have to hang our hats on things we can control like: our energy, how hard we’re boxing out, how are we matching their energy. Teams are taking away things from us every single game. They’re making it hard for us every single game, and we don’t do that to other teams. We don’t make teams uncomfortable. We don’t make teams work for what they have to to score, and so it has to come from that. It has to be a mentality shift for us. I hope and I know that with this team that it’ll be a reality check for us. Hopefully these seven games will be a teaching lesson for us. When we go back, we’ll have this under our belt. We’ll have the experience and we know what it feels like to be in a slump, but it has to come from our energy, our defense. Just things we can control.”
When things aren’t going well, you have to keep pushing forward and working to get better day by day. For the Liberty, that starts with maintaining their defensive energy and focus once they hit a dry spell on offense.
Han Xu shines ... again
Scoring off the bench is such a luxury in basketball, and the Liberty have a budding star in Han Xu. She led the team in scoring with 13 and was a presence on the inside. As the game progressed, former Liberty big Reshanda Gray and the Storm bigs upped the physicality against Han, but she still managed to do some good.
She rushed a few shots up as the Storm began sending aggressive double and triple teams at her, but as she gains more experience and reps at this level, she’ll be able to figure things out and handle it better. In the postgame, Han was asked about handling the adjustments defenses have made against her, and here’s how she (via her translator, Kevin Zhang) answered:
“When I got the ball, at first I want to look at what’s happening and then try to make the right play and kick it out if the double team’s coming, and try to make the right play.”
Han has been one of the bright spots of the 2022 Liberty season and as she continues to get more experience, she’ll be able to continue to adapt to the challenges opponents throw at her.
It’s been a rough stretch for Sabrina Ionescu, but she’s still incredibly young and has time to figure things out on this level and put together a string of excellent games. In pregame, Brondello was asked about Ionescu’s struggles and said:
She’s still a young player, still learning the game and frustrations will set in there at times... We want her to be aggressive, and shooters have to keep shooting, but she’s more than just a shooter for us. She’s just gotta handle the adversity and she’s doing that, but you have to remember that this is really her second year of playing at this level, so you just gotta hang in there.
As Brondello noted, this is essentially year two for Ionescu and year one where she’s healthy. As my pal Justin Thomas of Nets Republic pointed out to me, Brooklyn Nets fans are all too familiar with a star not getting downhill and the offense being stuck in the mud as a result. Sometimes she settles when she has more time on the shot clock to attack and either get an opportunity at the rim or a better look for her teammates:
When she does have the chance to get going downhill, she can finish in traffic
Brondello mentioned a change in the starting five to get some energy, but a change might also help to move Ionescu over to her natural position of shooting guard. If they can have Ionescu off ball and someone helping initiate the offense, it can open things up for Ionescu and the team. Asia Durr (AD) played a season high in minutes with 18 and Brondello mentioned they got a bit tired as the game progressed. Crystal Dangerfield
With no Laney for a while, the team needs huge scoring nights from Ionescu every time out. The team wants to get into the paint, and they’re going to need Ionescu attacking and putting the pressure on defenders as often as she can.
Late Saturday evening, a report from the Sunday Telegraph was published saying current Los Angeles Sparks center and former Australian Opals center, Liz Cambage, called members of the Nigerian Basketball team “monkeys” and slapped a player in the face during a confrontation last summer in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics. Cambage, who is half-Nigerian, left the Opals and by all accounts will not play for the national team again. After the Sparks beat the Indiana Fever tonight, her teammates, Chennedy Carter and WNBPA President, Nneka Ogwumike, spoke about it...
The #LASparks are playing this one close to the chest. But if #NnekaOgwumike who is from #Nigeria says the #Sparks are past the resurfaced racist remarks from #LizCambage then you can bet the team has moved on as a whole. And as #ChennedyCarter says, they have her back! pic.twitter.com/fYsWSyB4o8— Jackie Rae (@JackieRaeTV) May 30, 2022
Late Sunday evening, Cambage posted this statement on Instagram:
And in the pregame of the Liberty game, Opals head coach Sandy Brondello was asked about it:
“Right now, I’m not gonna make a comment to be quite honest. I’ve really moved on from it. It wasn’t a very fun time in that situation, and I’ll make a comment at an appropriate time.”
This situation is far from over and we’ll see what happens from here.
The Liberty are missing four players, most importantly Betnijah Laney. In the postgame, Brondello mentioned that Laney won’t be returning on Wednesday night and may be out for “a few weeks.” In the pregame, Brondello mentioned that the team hopes Richards is back “by mid June” as she recovers from a right hamstring injury that has been plaguing her. Rookie big Lorela Cubaj has been in concussion protocols all week and is expected to return next game.
The Liberty are back home on Wednesday night as they take on the Indiana Fever at Barclays Center. Tip is after 7:00 p.m. ET.