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Liberty lose a heartbreaker to Chicago Sky, 88-86, despite another Sabrina classic

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s something to be said for moving up a weight class. The difficulty ratchets up, the hits are a little bit harder, and the attention to detail has to be even more precise. In matchups like that, it takes everything you have in you to come away with the win. And sometimes, you fall one second short.

On Sunday afternoon, the New York Liberty played host to the reigning WNBA Champions, the Chicago Sky. In what was a heavyweight battle between a young squad hoping to climb the ranks, the defending champs delivered the final blow and walked away with the win, 88-86 in a classic at the Barclays Center.

We’re going to jump right to the final possession. On the day, the Sky tied a season high in offensive rebounds with 12. Before this shot, they grabbed five in the final seconds as they desperately fought to regain the lead. The Liberty played tough defense, but just couldn’t bring it all the way with a home. And when you give a champion one too many opportunities, they’re bound to cash in...

In post game, Courtney Vandersloot explained the final possession and how the ball wound up in her hands for the dagger three:

The Liberty had a chance to get the win with 0.9 seconds to in the end and Sandy Brondello designed a play to spring Marine Johannes open after Han Xu set a back screen with the intention of drawing two defenders onto Han and getting MJ a clean look for the W. However, the Sky went against the modern basketball late game tactic of switching everything, stayed with their original assignments, and stifled the Liberty attack.

On the day, the Sky won the rebound battle, 41-26. It’s been a bugaboo for Brondello’s club all season and it’s the thing that doomed them in this contest. Their rebounding prowess took a major hit when Rebecca Allen was unable to play after halftime. Brondello mentioned that Bec was feeling the after effects of the booster vaccine and that limited her availability for this one. With a few days off, Allen should be good to go and her presence will help the Liberty on both sides of the ball.

Despite the loss, there were a lot of good things to take away, as Brondello explained

“I think we’ve shown that we’re pretty tough. We were right there with a really good team. We still made some mistakes that we’ve gotta tidy up. A little communication [issues to work on], but for the most part, we’re right there and that should give us confidence that we can compete, but it’s those one percenters now, just finishing plays. Rebound the ball. We rebound at the end of the game, we win the game. Execute, write a play up, execute it so we don’t get a turnover. Just little things where we’ve gotta get a little better at, a little sharper. But that’s on me. I’ve gotta make sure that we’re doing those things right at the end...”

The margins get tighter the closer you get to the top. For this young Liberty team, today’s game could be the fuel that pushes them further up the standings.

On the move

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

Han Xu had her typical excellent game off of the bench with ten points, one steal, and one block. However, there was something pretty interesting in how she got some of her buckets tonight.

We asked Brondello about that, and here’s what she said:

“Her mobility helps us. She moves well. She catches the ball out of movement. For a big player, a lot of them don’t like that. Han is gonna keep growing for us, so I’m really excited about where we can go with her as we move forward these next games.”

To have a 6’10” player with good hands, range on the floor, and a soft touch at the basket like Han does already, the opportunities are endless. Han is currently averaging 10.5 points and 4.7 rebounds with shooting splits of 54/46/84, all of it all the bench.

Han also went up against her fellow Olympics teammate and countrywoman, Li Yueru, as captured by our friends over at Nets Republic:

Big Mama thang

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

Stefanie Dolson has had her struggles, but the Liberty big has stayed the course and continued to work hard and make winning plays. On the afternoon, Dolson had 12 points, five rebounds, and four assists in 26 minutes. Dolson also was on the receiving end of the pass of the year from Johannes:

If you’re like me, you probably did one of a few things after seeing that pass:

  1. immediately yelled out an expletive
  2. had your jaw agape wondering what you just saw
  3. stared in awe
  4. replayed that highlight over and over again

Dolson was asked about being on the receiving end of that magical pass and said:

There's always extra pressure to score after your teammate makes an awesome play.

In a last second loss, there are always things you can learn and apply next time you’re in a similar position. In post, we asked Dolson about it and she said:

“We’ll just learn from it. There’s a lot of positive things to take away from today, and a lot of things that we can grow from and learn from. Being in a lot of these types of games are huge in the long run. It hurts now that we lost, but there are mistakes that we won’t make again later on. When I was in Chicago, it was the same way. You have a lot of learning games in the beginning and by the end, you know how to win these games. And I think that’s something we can take from this and just build on it.”

Greatness on display

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite the loss, Sabrina Ionescu made some history today.

Ionescu wasn’t here for any celebrations of that feat, saying in postgame:

“I don’t care about the triple-double; we didn’t win. I’m just trying to do my part, continuing to get better every single day, continuing to learn from my teammates, from this coaching staff.”

As Brondello noted, a loss like this should piss you off and right after a last second loss like that, you’re hungry to get back out there and get back at it against elite competition. Ionescu has been magnificent ever since the calendar flipped over to June, and with another tough opponent on the way, she’ll be up to the task and ready to play at an All Star level.

Ionescu led all scorers with 27 points (along with her 13 rebounds and 12 assists) and made three from long distance. She scored 13 of those 27 in the fourth and had an answer every time the Sky hit the Liberty with a haymaker. She struggled against the Sky in previous matchups, but was able to figure out their defensive attack and have one of the best games of her young career. As she alluded to in her postgame comments after beating the Minnesota Lynx, she’s slowing the game down and playing at the pace she wants to.

Attacking off the dribble and getting downhill has so many benefits. You get the defense scrambling, you get good paint shots, draw contact, and can find your shooters open for clean jumpers. Another benefit is that you can catch your opponent in between as they’re dropping in a pick and roll, which opens up a pull up jumper if you’re so inclined.

Ionescu is a threat all over the court and poses difficult questions for opposing defenses.

Throughout this month, the team has kept the turnovers down while making sure they play at the pace they want to. A lot of that can be attributed to Crystal Dangerfield starting at point, but it’s been a total team effort across the board. We asked Sab about playing fast and making the most out of every possession:

“I think that’s one of our best offenses is continuing to just push the ball, run in transition. We have great guards that are able to drive and kick, spot up and shoot. Our post players are able to stretch the floor out and shoot, set great drag screens, continue to roll. We’re gonna continue to push the ball, make the right decisions, get the ball in the people’s hands that we know can make those decisions and make those plays. But it’s a learning process. We got a lot of games left, so continuing to just improve on those things is huge for us right now.”

Next up

Chicago Sky v Washington Mystics Photo by KeShawnEnnis/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty are off for a few days before hosting the Washington Mystics at Barclays Center on Thursday evening. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET.