Close, but not enough. The New York Liberty played the Chicago Sky on Friday night and put up a heck of a fight. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t bring it all the way home and lost a tough one by eight points. No time to mope as they have a slate of big games awaiting them.
The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. It’s been a stressful year for Vanessa Nygard and friends, but they’re still in it. They helped their playoff cause by beating the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday evening. They’re on the East Coast for the next three games so they’ll have a chance to get acclimated to this time zone.
Where to follow the game
YES Network App and CBS Sports Network have us covered. Tip after 2:00 p.m. ET
Betnijah Laney is out.
Diamond DeShields has missed the last three games with a hip injury. She's out for this one as well. Kia Nurse is still out with a knee injury.
Brittney Griner is still being unfairly detained in Russia, and it looks like good news might be on the horizon. United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, spoke to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, as he tries to negotiate the release of BG and Paul Whelan. Hopefully good news is on the horizon and we can get BG and every person unfairly detained abroad home.
Phoenix won the first game.
The Liberty have their own destinies in their hands, and it starts today. Their final eight games of the season all come against teams they’re fighting for playoff positioning. They’re on the outside looking in, but they’ve got enough game to possibly go on a run. There are some big questions they have to answer down the stretch, and I went into them in detail here.
Sports are supposed to be fun and passionate. The games are intense and players are human beings, so if they respond to what they think is a bad call, you gotta give em room to emote and react. So with that, you can only imagine our frustration when Syklar Diggins-Smith got tossed for no reason
That shouldn’t have happened.
Despite that, Diggins-Smith has been making a late push for WNBA MVP this season. SDS is first in minutes (34.2 minutes per game), second in scoring (20.3 points per game), seventh in assists (5.6 per game) and single handedly keeping the Mercury alive in many of their games. Diggins-Smith is a franchise player and well known star off the court, which is why it’s still mind blowing Mercury management even dared to think of trading her. Nevertheless, she’s earned plenty of votes for MVP and All WNBA first team.
Another All WNBA contender will be on the court today. Sabrina Ionescu doesn’t get as many calls as she would like, but on Friday, she tied a season high in free throw attempts with eight. It’s a welcome development for Sab, and if she continues to attack and put pressure on opponents, she’ll be rewarded for it.
Diana Taurasi tends to play on the edge, and it’s served the future Hall of Famer well. She can heat up at a moment’s notice and when the game is close late, you’re always afraid she’ll take over and knock you out. She also made some cool history a few days ago
Diana Taurasi joins Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki as the only players in WNBA/NBA history to record a 30-point game at age 40 or older pic.twitter.com/UEL9Y8dREp— ESPN (@espn) July 29, 2022
However, she’s one technical foul and one flagrant away from a mandatory one game suspension. With the Mercury battling five other teams for playoff spots, they can’t afford to lose Taurasi. She’s going to have to make sure she doesn’t do anything to cross the line. Too much is on the line to make a reckless play.
The duo of Rebecca Allen and Marine Johannes will look to wreak havoc on the perimeter. Allen is still looking to find a more consistent rhythm after being out so long with a concussion injury, but you see the flashes of excellence from her the more she plays. Her size, length, and quickness will figure to be a thorn in the side of Taurasi today. Coming off the bench, Johannes will look to create downhill and keep the offense moving at a steady pace.
This is a game where the Liberty need to own the boards. The Mercury are shorthanded and on the small side, so the Liberty will need to control the glass and get the game at the tempo they want. Han Xu is someone that figures to play a big part in today’s game. There was a moment on Friday where she was very frustrated with herself and it showed. However, she steeled herself, locked back in, and had a great second half of the game. Han and Stefanie Dolson will be at center and if they can win the rebounding battle and make the undersized Mercury pay on the inside, New York will have a great chance of winning. They’ve been a great one-two punch for much of the year, and they’re going to need to take it up a few notches with a few games left to go.
It’s Unity Day at Barclays Center, and the team’s Unity theme this season is “Seeing Black Women.” The team has been working to amplify the voices of Black women as they create a more just, fair, and equal society. Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke, spoke about the importance of Unity Day and said:
“The WNBA is made up of 80 percent Black athletes and while it behooves us to spotlight our players, that amplification doesn’t stop between the lines of a basketball court. This year’s UNITY theme is a call-to-action for all of us to further champion and respect Black women in all fields. We will not only acknowledge them, but also, through the business expo and art exhibit, we’ll encourage fans to contribute to their successes as business owners and creators.”
The Liberty have done a lot of work amplifying the voices of Black women in New York City and it’s great to see the team continue to do this work.
Player to watch: Sophie Cunningham
Y’all know the old saying. You hate a player when you’re going against them, but you would love and appreciate them if they were on your side. Sophie Cunningham comes from a long line of sports villains across eras. When she’s on the court, antics are guaranteed to ensue:
Sophie Cunningham and Myisha Hines-Allen exchanged words following this block attempt.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 15, 2022
They both received technical fouls. pic.twitter.com/dtnAsVmlfW
Sophie Cunningham and Kahleah Copper fighting for a rebound after Cunningham missed a layup pic.twitter.com/sk4vOcj0W8— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) October 14, 2021
Ok, I’m not sure if you’d love Cunningham if she were on your team, but your mileage may vary!
Beyond that, Cunningham embraces contact. That leads to #antics at times, but in general, her willingness to get her hands dirty makes her a pretty useful off-ball threat. She doesn’t mind prying others open. And because of her shooting ability and spatial awareness, defenses really have to be connected or they risk giving up something easy.
With the exit of Tina Charles, Cunningham has stepped into the power forward spot and performed admirably. She torched the Liberty the first time she saw them, as her 23 points and three three pointers led the Mercs. New York will look to battle her all game long and try not to let her physicalness throw them off their games.
Natasha Howard has done a lot of great things for the Liberty this season. However, one area in which she’ll need to be better at is turnovers. Tash leads the WNBA in turnovers this season and coughed it up seven times on Friday night against the Sky. Most of them came from her rushing into the action and being a second ahead of what she wanted to do. Despite that, she’s continued to fight hard and make winning plays on defense. Howard has so many responsibilities and with the ball in her hands a lot in scoring position, the team will need to make the most out of every time she has the ball in her hands.
From the Vault
Laya is the halftime performance today, so let’s get familiar