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Natasha Howard leads the way as Liberty beat Mystics in Brooklyn

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

Patience is a virtue. When it looks bad early, it’s easy to give up, allow doubt to overcome you and bring you down. However, when you stay the course, stick to your principles, and keep pushing, good things will happen.

On Thursday night, the New York Liberty played host to the Washington Mystics. It was a rough shooting night, but when you play excellent, organized defense, you can overcome an off shooting night and still play well. That’s what the Liberty did as they came away with a 77-65 win in front of the hometown faithful. The team is now 6-9 on the WNBA season as they continue their fantastic June. After a 1-7 start, the Libs are 5-2.

Going into the game, we mentioned the MysticNatasha Cloud had been shooting 17.9 percent from three point range in the month of June. At the same time, Cloud told us “she’s a shooter,” and she proved exactly why we should listen to players when they tell us things. The Liberty went under a few screens in the first half, and she made them pay for it with three 3-pointers.

In the postgame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that she switched Marine Johannes onto her as MJ’s athleticism helped keep the Mystics star to only 2-of-7 coming out of the halftime break. Without Rebecca Allen and Didi Richards (more on them in a bit), it takes a collective team effort to slow down elite players. On the night, the Mystics only put up a .369/.276/.643 shooting split as they couldn’t create enough offense without Elena Delle Donne, who is out due to rest.

The 3-point shooting wasn’t there for the Liberty tonight as they only shot 6-of-31 from deep, but it didn’t matter as they wrecked the Mystics on the inside. The Libs tied a season high in points in the paint with 44 as they consistently attacked the basket, made excellent passes, and made the right play over and over again.

There’s one sequence I wanted to shout out from this game. After she missed a corner three pointer in the fourth quarter, Michaela Onyenwere sprinted back in transition, prevented a fastbreak layup, and came away with the steal…

That’s the level of dedication and effort you love to see, and I’m sure it’s something her coaches and teammates will appreciate as well. Little things like that go a long way in establishing the culture you want to build as you represent BK to the fullest.

Doing it the right way

Washington Mystics v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

Tonight, the Liberty committed a season-low ten turnovers. It probably would’ve been a lot lower if not for a local jinx! In the postgame, we asked Brondello about making the most out of every possession, especially on a night where the threes weren’t falling:

“It’s big. We’ve lost games because of our silly turnovers and a lot of unforced errors. We’re just taking care of the ball and that’s just understanding poise. A little bit more poise, purpose, chemistry, and preaching simple plays. We don’t need to make touchdown passes. We wanna make sure we’re working on the second and third side and that’s when teams are hard to guard and hopefully get wide open looks there. When you look at our stats now from May to June, and it’s night and day. We’re taking care, we’re not sending them to the foul line, we’re taking care of the ball, and we’re rebounding. They’re just the basic parts of basketball, isn’t it? You do those three things well and you put yourself in a position to win.”

During the game, Mark Schindler of WNBA.com and Basketball News made a great point about Stefanie Dolson.

In the first quarter, Dolson made two assists out of the high post, including this beauty to Crystal Dangerfield…

We asked Brondello about Dolson’s passing (shouts to Mark for inspiring our question), and how integral she is to the attack:

“Critical. Her and Han complement each other. Han’s obviously more of a scorer. Stef’s more of a defensive anchor, but great passer and screener. They both can do everything as well, too. But that’s what she’s known for, her passing ability. That got us going, got us really high percentage shots at the rim with [Natasha Howard] in the first half.”

We also spoke with Stef at practice on Wednesday, and you can read our interview here.

Sabrina Ionescu had a rough shooting night as she went 3-of-16 from the field (0-of-8 from three point range), but she still made positive contributions all over the court as she grabbed seven rebounds, handed out nine assists, and tied a career high with four steals. The great thing about Ionescu is that even when her shots aren’t there, she’s able to get downhill, stay assertive, and help her teammates. As she explained to Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr…

That’s what winners do.

Han daily

Washington Mystics v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

She did it again. Han Xu was second on the team in scoring tonight with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Two of them came from this nifty step-back jumper to begin the second quarter…

Han was asked in the postgame what about the system allows her to play at her most comfortable level, and via her translator Kevin Zhang, answered as such:

“The offense allows [me] to not to be a traditional five, and this offense puts [me] all over the floor, moving around. That’s what [I] like and that’s what [I] enjoy.”

As Brondello alluded to, Dolson and Han are a great one-two combo that allow the Liberty to have quality center minutes all game long.

Health updates

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Didi Richards was upgraded to probable, but wasn’t able to get in the game as staff decided she could use a few more days to get ready and have her hamstring at 100 percent.

Rebecca Allen is out with a non-COVID illness, but in the pregame, Brondello said she “had a way better day today” and hopes Bec will be good to go on Sunday.

Leading the way

Washington Mystics v New York Liberty Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

When one star isn’t shooting well, it pays to have another one you can turn to. Natasha Howard led all scorers with 27 points on 13-of-17 from the field and nine rebounds in 30:44 of game action. Howard had it all working tonight as she was able to continue building on the chemistry she’s developed with her teammates and make crafty finishes in the paint

The beauty of playing with excellent floor generals is that they’re always gonna find you in the right spot and make the defense pay for the coverages they deploy…

In postgame, we asked Howard about the paint presence on a night like tonight when the 3-pointers aren’t working:

“It felt good having the lane open like a sea. I give credit to [Ionescu] and [Johannes], finding me and also reading my defender, how they’re playing, too.”

In the postgame, Howard also noted that even when Ionescu doesn’t have her shot falling, she still plays good defense and contributes in a variety of ways. Stars set the example, and when the dynamic duo stays on top of things and chips in everywhere, your team is bound to succeed.

Next up

Seattle Storm v Connecticut Sun - 2021 Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Liberty are back at it on Sunday afternoon against the Seattle Storm. Tip off is at high noon in Brooklyn.