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Liberty struggle late and lose a close one to the Chicago Sky

New York Liberty v Chicago Sky Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Punch, counterpunch, punch, counterpunch, and then the final punch. Basketball is a lot like boxing in that it’s a back and forth affair for much of the night before one big swing at the end decides it. In the end, you hope to be the one that’s delivering the final blow to your opposition.

On Friday night, the New York Liberty took a visit to the Midwest to face the Chicago Sky. The team had a chance to come away with the win late, but some familiar bugaboos did them in once again as the Sky came away with a gritty 89-81 victory.

When we spoke with Michaela Onyenwere a few days ago, she noted that the Sky’s ability to crash the offensive boards helped them get back in the game. With the Liberty clinging to a one point late lead on Friday, they forced the Sky into two misses. However, when you give teams second and third chances, sooner or later they’re gonna make you pay for it...

As it happens, the Liberty still had a great chance to win this one. However, they didn’t help the cause by committing three straight turnovers down the stretch. On the night, the Liberty coughed it up 18 times, with six of them coming in the fourth quarter. Sandy Brondello described those turnovers as “deflating,” and she was 100 percent right. For much of the season, the Liberty have been neck and neck with the top teams in the WNBA.

Marine Johannes has gotten back into a groove following some recent struggles. She had 13 points, five assists, and only one turnover in 28 minutes tonight as she provided a spark off the bench. She gives the team another dynamic perimeter option to go alongside Sabrina Ionescu. The Sky threw a lot of hard hedges at Sab to get the ball out of her hands, and having Johannes coming off the bench to provide extra help and orchestrate the offense is incredibly important. She and Stef Dolson have also developed great friendship and chemistry as teammates, and it shows on the court.

It takes time to develop that, and here’s hoping they develop even more in the years to come.

Strategy with Sandy

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

The great thing about media availability is you get to hear coaches and players talk about the game, how they view it, their philosophies, etc. It’s super valuable if you’re a fan of the game or a writer who’s looking to learn more about the game on a deeper level. Jackie Powell of The Next asked Sandy Brondello in pregame if pace matters all that much, and here’s what she told us

“You don’t wanna play slow, so pace matters getting easy baskets and opportunities, when you get a rebound and you can run, and you’ve got athletes so you can pass it ahead. [Courtney Vandersloot and the Chicago Sky] run a lot because Slooty passes it up to [Kahleah] Copper, so that’s a great transition for them. They’ve got Candace Parker as a point forward that’s creating with her passing ability as well. [Pace] matters but it doesn’t matter in the overall picture because it depends on your execution in the halfcourt as well. We’ve been trying to emphasize that but at the same time, pushing it to put pressure on the defense but at the same time, flowing into offense. It’s still taking good shots because the quicker you go, maybe you rush into turnovers, so it’s a fine balance here. There are areas we can push. We try to push on misses, there are teams we try to push on makes. But it depends on what team we’re playing. Sometimes we wanna slow the game down and not get in a road race with them like [the Las Vegas Aces] because when you do, it’s not gonna be a good night.”

I always appreciate when coaches and players take time to provide in depth answers like that.

Finding the rhythm

New York Liberty v Chicago Sky Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Losing out on Rebecca Allen for a month due to a concussion was one of the biggest turning points of the Liberty season. Allen was their best perimeter defender last season and made some good plays in her 20:58 tonight. Allen had six points, three steals, two blocks, and two rebounds on the night, including this wonderful block on Allie Quigley

Allen made a little bit of franchise history tonight as well

In postgame, Sandy Brondello spoke about Allen and her return following the injury:

Bec is still working herself back, and she just needs to get quality minutes on the court. I think at some stages if she has too many minutes in a row, she gets a little bit of fatigue and that’s where things probably go not as well. So for her, getting a little confidence on the offensive end. She had some good drives to the basket, but I think where she really helps us is her rebounding, just that extra length. Defensively, she had some good stops against [Allie] Quigley, too. She’s just trying to work her way back to some really good rhythm, and she’s on the way there. She’s just gotta stay persistent and she’s gotta keep pushing.”

Allen plays a lot bigger than her 6’2 height, and the more reps she gets in, the more impact she will make down the stretch of this season. She can be another player that guards elite perimeter players and the Liberty will need her athleticism in a major way as they fight for a playoff spot.

Health update

2022 WNBA All-Star Game - WNBA Live Event Photo by Mary Kate Ridgway/NBAE via Getty Images

In pregame, Sandy Brondello shared an update on Betnijah Laney. The Liberty star has been out after undergoing right knee surgery. Sandy noted that she’s progressing well, but it’s a tight window to integrate her into the team and the speed of game action with such little time to work with. Brondello praised Laney’s leadership and ability to handle the adversity she has faced with the injuries. Laney is everything you could ask for in a franchise player and the team will welcome her return with open arms.

Big Momma rings

It was a special night for Stefanie Dolson as she and assistant head coach, Olaf Lange, received their 2021 championship rings from the Sky. Dolson hit the clinching buckets in Game four of the WNBA Finals against Sandy Brondello’s Phoenix Mercury club last year.

In tonight’s game, she had a solid night with 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists. The great thing about Dolson is if you’re moving and cutting to the basket, she will find you and hit you in stride.

The Liberty have made it a point to get two feet in the paint and attack the basket more often over the past two games, and having Dolson’s court vision will help with that immensely.

Working through it

New York Liberty v Chicago Sky Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Natasha Howard is the heartbeat of this Liberty team. She is the anchor of the defense, takes on all the tough matchups, plays with the passion and energy needed to win, and is always there to uplift her teammates. On one hand, her line of 15 points, ten rebounds, three steals, and two blocks is fantastic. However, she did turn it over seven times tonight and leads the WNBA in turnovers at 3.3 a night. Tash didn’t know she coughed it up that many times tonight, but spoke about what she plans to do to improve on that statistic

Tash has held herself accountable all season long, and she’ll need to slow things down a bit on offense. A lot of her turnovers have come on travels when she gets happy feet and speeds herself up. Just gotta take your time, trust your excellence, and let the good results happen naturally.

Next up

Los Angeles Sparks v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The final eight games of the season will all be against teams battling for the sixth through eighth seeds in the playoff race. The Liberty are back home on Sunday afternoon for a matchup with the Phoenix Mercury. Tip after 2:00 p.m. ET.