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Liberty close out first half on the road against Phoenix Mercury

Phoenix Mercury v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Oh, my my my. The New York Liberty were on the road to face the Las Vegas Aces last night, and it was a game for the ages. The Liberty pulled off the upset and made a ton of history along the way as they came away with a much needed victory. Tonight's the last night of the first half of the season and they’re looking to end it on a high note.

The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. It’s been a tough year on and off the court for first year head coach, Vanessa Nygard, and she’s hoping she can lead her team back into the playoffs. They’ve been off since Monday night after losing on the road to the Los Angeles Sparks.

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No Betnijah Laney or Jocelyn Willoughby tonight. Rebecca Allen is on the mend and Sandy Brondello mentioned last night that she wanted to give her a few minutes tonight, but is out due to rest.

Kia Nurse is out as she continues to recover from the ACL tear she suffered during last year’s playoffs.

Free BG

Phoenix Mercury v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Brittney Griner has unfairly held in a Russian jail since February on bogus drug charges. A portion of a letter BG wrote to President Joe Biden was shared, and in it she wrote:

“I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

Earlier today, BG pled guilty to the charges she is facing and asked the court for mercy. The plea was a formality as the Russian courts would've convicted her regardless of any actual facts. Here’s a statement from her legal team:

With the plea out the way, the negotiations for her release will continue between the United States and Russian governments. Free BG.

The game

It’s a homecoming! Sandy Brondello is back in Phoenix after she spent eight years as head coach, including a championship in 2014. It was a great run in Phoenix and Sandy should get a well deserved ovation from the X-factor tonight.

The Mercury's big offseason acquisition is now residing in Seattle as Tina Charles and Phoenix agreed to a contract divorce a few weeks ago. TC is coming off the bench for the Storm and Brianna Turner slid over to center. On the season, the Mercury have been the worst rebounding team in the WNBA so the Liberty have a great chance to own the boards and control the flow of the game. The Liberty did a great job as a team boxing out and

Without Charles, the Mercs have downsized in the frontcourt and have been starting Sophie Cunningham at the four. Cunningham is shooting close to 40 percent from three point range, so she’ll be able to draw the Liberty out on defense. On the other side, Natasha Howard will look to follow up on her great outing last night. Gabe Ibrahim of Her Hoop Stats pointed out one of the biggest plays of last night’s game:

Howard is a Swiss army knife for the Liberty and her ability to score, fill in gaps on defense, and boost her teammates keeps everything in order for New York.

Han Xu had the game of her life last night, and Coach Carolyn Smalls had a great breakdown on Twitter about Han's game

Getting Han on the move will make the Liberty offense even more dynamic and unlock some new aspects of her game. Han’s an already deft scorer and with her ability to score all over the court, being able to score on the move will pose even more trouble for opponents.

So, what do you do when your legend still has the will to play at an elite level, but the results aren’t all the way there? That’s where Nygard finds herself with Diana Taurasi. DT is 14th in the WNBA in minutes per game and is second on the team in scoring at 15 a night, however, there’s some cause for concern. She’s shooting threes at the highest rate of her career, but is shooting 32.5 percent from deep, her lowest in a full season since 2005. You can’t sleep on Taurasi because she can heat up and go on a scoring run that can push her team to victory, but the highs haven’t been as consistently high as we’re used to seeing.

The Liberty will throw their fair share of defenders at Taurasi, including Didi Richards. Richards was outstanding in her time on the court as her defense helped slow down Kelsey Plum after halftime and her passing opened things up for her teammates. As the Liberty hope to get healthier for the stretch run, Didi will be critical to their chances of success.

Player to watch: Skylar Diggins Smith

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On Wednesday afternoon, Howard Megdal of The Next and The IX sports reported that Diggins-Smith is on the trading block. Trades for stars like her are incredibly difficult, but if a team feels as if they’re one superstar away, they might swing for the fences and try to bring her in. If they do, they’ll be getting one of the very best players in basketball. Diggins-Smith is: second in minutes (34 a night), third in steals (1.8 per game), fourth in scoring (19.1 points a game on a .452/.316/.863 shooting split), and ninth in assists (five a night). She also gets you a block a night! Diggins-Smith is one of the toughest players in the sport

Sabrina Ionescu will look to follow up on her masterpiece from last night. Ionescu had a 31/13/10 with seven three pointers and no turnovers last night as she paced the Liberty attack and helped them fight off a blistering Aces offense. The Mercury are allowing teams to shoot 64.3 percent inside the restricted area, fourth highest in the W this season. Sab has her eye on the big picture and if she’s able to continue playing at an All Star, superstar level, the Liberty will climb the standings and be hell to deal with in the playoffs.

From the Vault

A trip to the Finals is on the line. Let’s revisit Brittney Griner’s finest hour and the game of the year in 2021

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