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Liberty host Storm on Sunday in Sue Bird’s final game in New York

Los Angeles Sparks v Seattle Storm Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Good things keep happening. The New York Liberty were at home on Thursday night to face the Washington Mystics. The defense did its thing as they came away with a quality double digit victory in front of the hometown faithful. After this game wraps up, the Liberty will hit the road for a little bit.

The opponent today will be the Seattle Storm. Noelle Quinn and company have righted the ship after a rocky stretch of games. They continued their five game road trip on Friday night in a marquee matchup against the Connecticut Sun, and lost 82-71. The L snapped their four game winning streak. Once this wraps up, they’ll head home for a four game homestand starting on Thursday evening.

Where to follow the game

ESPN is the place to be. Tip is after high noon, ET.

Injuries

Betnijah Laney and Jocelyn Willoughby are out. Rebecca Allen is out and is in concussion protocol. Didi Richards has been dealing with a hamstring injury, but is not on the injury report and will be back today.

Mercedes Russell is being treated for a recurrent, atypical headache syndrome and is out for this contest.

The game

The Storm took game one and game two in May.

We get to watch two outstanding 22 year old centers this afternoon. On one side, EZI THE ERASER!!! Ezi Magbegor has been absolutely splendid at center and is leading the WNBA in blocks at 2.8 per game. She has the chance to become the third player in WNBA to average at least three blocks a game, joining Margo Dydek and Brittney Griner. Ezi is also on pace to have the most blocks per game in a season since BG in 2018. The Storm are third in fastbreak points, and when your big can start a break with some kickass rim protection, good things will happen

We’ll see how the Liberty attack Magbegor this afternoon.

For NY, their 22 year old big has continued her star turn. Han Xu put together another excellent game on Thursday as she passed the double digit mark off the bench once again. Han’s ability to stretch the floor and score from everywhere will be valuable tonight. She still has to do better against physical defenses, and today will be a great test of her rapid improvements.

With Richards and Allen out on Thursday, Sandy Brondello started Marine Johannes at the small forward. Aside from the spellbinding passes and general badassery, Johannes’ defense was key to the Liberty’s win on Thursday. She was assigned to Natasha Cloud after the halftime break, and the Liberty combined to hold Cloud to 2-7 from the field (0-3 from three point range and no free throw attempts) along with four turnovers. Today, she’ll get to chase Jewell Loyd around. Loyd cooked the Liberty in the second matchup this season, but is barely above 40 percent from the field this season and getting to the free throw line at her lowest clip since the 2019 season. If they can keep Loyd from heating up, they’ll be able to slow the Storm down.

Having Richards back will provide the Liberty with some much needed size on the boards and on defense. On Thursday, Brondello said she expected to play Richards around 10-12 minutes. I think we can assume the same restrictions are in today as well. As Richards gets further away from her injury, she’ll get more opportunities to play and make contributions.

The Liberty committed a season low ten turnovers on Thursday, and they’ve been much better at taking care of the basketball in June (third lowest mark this month). Today will be a major test of their recent improvements. In the mini series in Seattle, the Libs coughed it up 42 times as they lost both games. The Storm lead the WNBA in opponent’s turnover rate, and if they’re able to force the Liberty into making mistakes, they’ll have an opportunity to get easy points in transition.

The matchup at the four is gonna be fun as hell. On one side will be Natasha Howard. Howard was masterful on Thursday as she punished the Mystics inside to the tune of a career high 22 points in the paint. Howard was in complete rhythm with her teammates, who found her on the inside over and over again. The Liberty have continued to develop their chemistry, and if they can keep finding Howard in the right spots, she’ll continue piling up the points.

On the other side stands Breanna Stewart. As I’m sure will be mentioned on the broadcast, the Liberty tried to acquire Stewie in free agency this winter, but she decided to run it back with the Storm. Stewart is still one of the best players in the sport as she can score on all three levels, is a great frontcourt defender, and someone you can count on to be one of the team leaders. She’s also an MVP contender, as Zach Ward of Swish Appeal explains:

It’s hard to distinguish between Stewart’s seasons because, statistically, they are so close to being equally good. Sometimes the points were up a bit, other seasons the rebounds and others the assists. This year her steals are up and her rookie year her blocks were up. But it all hovers around the same area. So far, 2016 saw her career best in blocks, 2018 saw her career best in points, 2020 saw her career best in assists and steals and 2021 saw her best in rebounding. If things hold up, 2022 will see her set new highs in scoring and steals. Her career lows in each category are a still-astounding 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds (7.5 this year), 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks (0.8 this year).

Howard, Stef Dolson, and the rest of the Liberty will do what they can to keep Stewart from taking over. It takes a team effort to slow down a superstar.

Player to watch: Sue Bird

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a legend. Sue Bird has been a force in the game of basketball since her breakout sophomore season at the University of Connecticut back in 1999-2000. From there, she’s gone on to be one of the most decorated basketball players of all time as she’s won everywhere she’s been many times over. At her retirement announcement, Bird spoke about her basketball journey and retirement:

“I’ve been doing this since I was five or six years old. It’s really all I know. So of course I’m sad. It’s a little bit of like a mourning knowing I’m gonna miss it. This is probably why for, like, a lot of years, I’ve been saying I’m not going to announce my retirement, because I know I would go with this. I’m sentimental. I don’t like change.”

It worked out perfectly that her retirement tour began in the northeast as she’s from NY and rose to fame in Connecticut. Here’s to a wonderful career and future induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

For all the history she’s made, Bird is still a darn good player. She’s one of the game’s greatest floor generals and always makes sure her teammates are in the best scoring position possible. When the game is on the line, you can put it in Bird’s hands and trust that she’ll deliver

As Seattle looks to make it back to the top of the mountain, Bird will do everything she can to lead the way.

One player that will lead the charge for the next generation of WNBA players will be Sabrina Ionescu. Sab has been outstanding, and as Heaven Hill of Her Hoop Stats noted:

In the month of June, Sabrina is currently averaging 22 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 6.9 assists per game on just under 50% shooting from the field and 37% from three-point land. Even if you consider Thursday’s game against the Mystics a “bad” outing where she shot 3-for-16 from the floor, Ionescu still flirted with a triple-double and finished the game with five stocks (steals + blocks). All in all, credit to Sabrina for hanging tough and responding as the season reached its bleakest point.

Ionescu has figured things out since the two game series against the Storm and has been wreaking havoc on the league all month. The Storm will try to be physical with her, but Ionescu has been able to succeed against physical defenses and attack downhill. Magbegor will be waiting for her at the rim this afternoon, but Ionescu and the Liberty have shown that they’re up to the challenge of playing the league’s best.

From the Vault

It’s a Sue Sunday, and everybody’s celebrating

More reading: Swish Appeal, Just Women’s Sports, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats and The Next