Everyone responds differently to pressure. Some run from it, while others face it head on. Pressure defines you and if you’re able to overcome it, good things are in store for you.
On Sunday afternoon, the New York Liberty played host to the Phoenix Mercury. These teams along with three more are fighting to get into the playoffs. With eight games left, and all eight with the teams ahead of them in the standings, the Liberty will need to get on it, and fast. They got off to a great start with a wire-to-wire, 89-69 victory.
The big focus of the day was how the Liberty were going to try and stop Skylar Diggins-Smith. SDS has been on a tear following the All Star break as she’s willed the Mercury back into the playoff race and earned herself some possible MVP votes along the way. Although she handed out 11 assists on the day, Diggins-Smith only shot 4-18 from the field on the afternoon. The Liberty went under a few screens and SDS wasn’t able to make them pay for it, but when she drove to the basket, just about every shot was heavily contested. Crystal Dangerfield was the primary defender on Diggins-Smith, and she did a wonderful job on the Mercury superstar. More on Crystal in a bit.
There were a few moments where it looked like the Mercs were set to go on a run and cut into the Liberty lead, but the team regained its bearings and got back on the good foot. There have been a few times this season where the Liberty have let moderate to large size leads disappear, and the fact that they were able to quickly bounce back and rebuild a large lead was very encouraging and a great sign going forward.
The Liberty players wanted to get this W for Sandy Brondello who took the Mercury to the WNBA Finals last season. She got asked about that in the postgame and said:
Brondello on Liberty players winning this game for her: "They wanted to win it for me in Phoenix, too... I had special memories, I loved that team. But for me, it's just another game... it's nice that they say that. It means they like me a little bit, I suppose." (Q @ClassicJpow)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) July 31, 2022
Good vibes from a good coach! You love to see it.
Sabrina Ionescu’s passing has been one of her calling cards since her days at the University of Oregon. When you put the ball in her hands, something good is bound to happen. And today, Sab had plenty of goodies for the Barclays Center crowd. She set a career high and Liberty franchise record with 16 assists. Sab set the record on a beautiful to her pick and roll ace, Natasha Howard.
Of the 35 Liberty buckets, 32 were assisted. Also, the entire starting five scored in double figures, which is the first time that’s happened this season. Ionescu only shot 3-of-14 from the field, but when you excel in the other parts of the game, you can live with it. Sandy Brondello spoke about her All Star’s showing and said:
“For Sabrina, I think she’s a really talented basketball player. I just want her to take what the defense gives us. And tonight, it was creating wide open. They were switching, we got rolls to the basket. She’s a fantastic passer. It really is good for such a young player, just her court vision. It reminds me of Diana Taurasi, really. We want her being aggressive, but we still want her creating for others, too. She gets a lot of attention, so that’s what was happening. Her assists are gonna be a bit higher now. She might not be happy with how she shot the ball, but that’s just her competitive nature. But for the most part I thought they were really good shots, so I thought she played a really balanced game tonight.”
As has been catalogued throughout the season, Ionescu’s chemistry with Natasha Howard is second to none.
Goodbye to an icon
On Sunday morning, the world learned that basketball legend, civil rights icon, and American hero, Bill Russell, passed away at the age of 88.
Russell was one of the bravest, most important people in sports history and his presence will be missed dearly. In postgame, Diana Taurasi spoke about Mr. Russell and said:
Mr. Russell was a supporter of the WNBA and always made time to support the players when he could.
Taken in 2018.— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) July 31, 2022
Bill, who always made time to visit, told us before our first title in 2007, ‘ .’
We'll never forget all the generosity. Rest easy, Mr. Russell. pic.twitter.com/SZQGaNVhVc
The world will miss him.
In the pregame, we talked about the importance of the Liberty winning the rebounding battle. New York wound up doing that and then some. On the day, the Liberty won the battle of the boards by 16 as they took full advantage of an undersized Mercury team. They also outscored the Mercury 42-34 in the paint. Natasha Howard led the team in scoring with 23 as outside of one three pointer, everything was at the rim tonight. She also grabbed a season high 12 rebounds along with a season high six assists on the evening as well. The turnovers were still a bit on the high side (six), and Brondello mentioned in postgame that she wants Tash to not dribble as much at the top of the key, move the ball, and set screens.
We asked Tash about the team winning the battle on the inside, and she told us:
Natasha Howard on controlling boards: "It feels good to dominate inside the paint & get rebounds. That's something we've been lacking in... that's what me and Stef have been focusing more on: more touches & PITP, and boxing out so our guards can fly in for rebounds." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) July 31, 2022
There were a few moments where the Mercury upped the physicality, but the Liberty were more than willing to match and surpass the Mercury. Some Liberty legends (Teresa Weatherspoon, Sue Wicks, and Crystal Robinson) were in the house, and seeing the toughness and grit on display harkened back to the glory days of New York basketball. In postgame, the players were proud to have played so well in front of their legends and hope to keep building on it and establishing homecourt here in Brooklyn.
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘em
After Friday’s game, Sandy Brondello mentioned Rebecca Allen was slowly finding her rhythm. Bec was the primary defender on Diana Taurasi this afternoon, and did great as she helped hold the legend to only 4-12 from the field in 31 minutes. Allen’s size and athleticism are essential to this Liberty team and what they hope to accomplish the rest of the season. She made four three pointers on offense, which is crucial as the Liberty will need to continue to hit threes if they want to win. However, Allen made some really timely cuts that led to easy baskets for the home team today.
If you’re moving, Stefanie Dolson will find you in stride and put you in great position to score.
In a lot of ways, the Liberty season started to turn around on June 1 when Crystal Dangerfield was inserted into the starting five. Dangerfield has helped the team cut down on the turnovers while also helping them get out in transition. With another ballhandler, it’s opened things up for Ionescu and taken a lot of Ionescu. The Mercury dared players other than Ionescu to beat them, and Dangerfield was more than up to the challenge.
She scored a season high 17 points on 7-12 shooting, handed out five assists and grabbed four rebounds on the day. The Liberty made a lot happen in transition today, and it pays when you have two elite distributors always making the right passes at the right time
In the postgame, Dangerfield talked about the chemistry she and Bec Allen have developed:
“It’s gonna start defensively for the both of us, and we’re constantly talking because a lot of the time, we’re on the best perimeter players so it’s happening that way. Knowing that we trust each other to switch off and guard that assignment and take pride in that. But offensively, we just took what they were doing. Bec had a great shooting night and needed to see the ball go down the hole and same for me. We’re gonna continue to do that and looking forward to staying aggressive is what it really is.”
Dangerfield’s contributions on both sides of the ball have been essential and if she and Allen can continue to play at this level, the Liberty will take a big leap forward.
The Liberty start a back-to-back on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET
- Box Score: New York Liberty 89, Phoenix Mercury 69 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: New York Liberty 89, Phoenix Mercury 69 (Video) - WNBA
- Liberty trounce Mercury to keep pace in WNBA playoff race - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday