That wasn’t fun. The New York Liberty went into Saturday morning’s game against the Chicago Sky hoping to get their first playoff series win in seven years. Unfortunately for the Liberty, the Sky’s pressure made life hell on them and they lost by 38 points.
The Sky are hoping to advance and continue their title defense. The winner of this matchup gets the winner of the Connecticut Sun vs. Dallas Wings game on Wednesday night.
Where to follow the game
ESPN has us covered. Tip after 9 p.m. Gotta go ask ESPN about the weird start time (again).
Nothing here for New York.
No Li Yueru for Chicago. Everybody else is good to go.
It's a huge night for the Liberty franchise. This is the first ever WNBA playoff game in Brooklyn and the Liberty's first home playoff game since September 10, 2017 against the Washington Mystics. That game was played at Madison Square Garden, and it was the Liberty's last game in New York City as the previous ownership sent them out of NYC and all the way up to Westchester County. It's been a long road back for the organization and being here tonight against the defending champions is a sign things are heading in the right direction.
Rebecca Allen has been with the team since 2015 and has been a first hand witness to all of its changes. After practice on Monday, we asked Bec about it and she told us:
"I'm really excited to get out there because were gonna have a great fanbase and all the support behind us. I think that brings a huge energy for us as players on the court, and it makes it exciting as well. They’ve all got our backs and we’re out here trying our best as well. We wanna get this win and I think if we do it all together, that’s gonna make it pretty special for the franchise and for us.”
It should be a rocking, fun experience for all of us at Barclays Center.
We know it, the players know, and Sandy Brondello sure as heck knows it, but this game will come down to turnovers. New York took terrific care of the ball in game one as their eight turnovers were a season low. They matched that total in the first quarter and wound up coughing it up 19 times in total in game two. Slow starts have been an occasional Liberty bugaboo this year, and it’s one Stef Dolson mentioned in pregame media availability before game one. With the home crowd out in full force to support them, New York will have the city behind them as they try to dethrone the champs. Look for them to throw early haymaker to keep the Sky off balance.
Speaking of turnovers, Dolson spoke about one of the keys to success for tonight’s game:
Stef Dolson's key for Game 3: "Smart decision-making. In the first game, we were decisive on offense, which led to really good shots. On defense, we have to be quick and decisive with what we're doing whether we're in a hedge, switch; commit to something and just do it." @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 22, 2022
For a lot of Saturday, the Liberty looked as if they were sped up. The offense didn’t have its usual flow and the pressure did a number of them. Brondello mentioned that the team resorted to too much one-on-one play, and that’s when they fall apart. As Allen said, it’s going to take a team effort to win and that will start with a synchronized effort on offense.
The Sky grabbed ten offensive rebounds on Saturday, and the Liberty bigs will need to be gigantic tonight. Dolson, Natasha Howard, and Han Xu combined for 10 rebounds in 55 combined minutes. The Liberty are going to need their bigs to fight hard on the boards and complete possessions on defense. Even if the Sky don’t immediately score on the offensive rebounds, that’s 14 more seconds of scrambling and defense the Liberty have to play. If they can’t control the boards, they can’t control the pace and get out on the run to make those exciting plays that keep the crowd locked in and get you easy buckets.
The Liberty will need a big game from Betnijah Laney tonight. Bee only went 1-7 from the field Saturday, but if Kahleah Copper doesn’t have the assignment on her tonight, she’ll be able to go to work against Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Laney is a great three level scorer and her presence can free the offense up to have more room and more avenues to score.
The bench will be key tonight. The Sky essentially run an eight player rotation with Azure Stevens, Rebekah Gardner, and Julie Allemand coming off the bench. The Liberty have more working for them there, and Marine Johannes in particular will be essential tonight. Johannes struggled in game two, and they’re going to need her to push the tempo and keep the Sky off balance. When Han is in, they’ll need her to protect the rim and match the Sky’s physicality.
Emma Meesseman hasn’t gotten on track yet, and a lot of that is due to Howard. Tash has kept Big Meesse in front of her and fought to keep her off the boards. A big all around game from Howard could help counteract Meesseman and Candace Parker on the interior tonight. Parker does everything at a high level and the team will try to junk it up for Parker and congest the Sky’s passing lanes.
If there’s one solace for the Liberty going into this game, it’s that their three point shooting is sure to bounce back. They only went 3-20 from deep in game two as the Sky pressure sped them up and caused them to miss buckets they normally make. The Sky weren’t a great three point shooting team in the regular season and haven’t had much success in the first two games. If that stays true to form and New York can heat back up from deep, they have the opportunity to do something special.
Player to watch: Sabrina Ionescu
The Liberty’s superstar has held it down all season long, and the team is going to need one more All WNBA level performance out of her tonight. Ionescu was masterful in game one as her 22/7/6/2 helped the team pull away late. Sab only had one paint shot attempt in game two after four in game one as the Sky made things tough on her. She’s a darn good finisher at the basket so when she’s getting downhill, she’s hell on wheels for opposing defenses. The Liberty are best when the ball is zipping all over the court and that ball movement will spring Ionescu open when she doesn’t have the ball in her hands. Ball movement will be crucial and Ionescu setting the tone will go a long way in helping the Liberty make it to the next round.
Kahleah Copper was the primary defender on Ionescu and did a great job on the Liberty All Star. The Sky All Star helped keep Ionescu in check and exploded for 20 points on the other end. The Liberty have stressed the importance of keeping her out of the paint, but that’s easier said than done. Copper has a lightning fast first step and can finish over all sorts of traffic. Allen, Laney, Johannes, and all of the Liberty will have to keep Copper out of the paint. Chicago has punished New York repeatedly on the inside, and Howard spoke on what they’ll need to do to combat the Sky’s interior advantage:
Tash Howard on slowing CHI down low (avg 55 pts in the paint): "Crowd the paint. We’ve got to use our length to make sure they don’t get those extra points in the paint like they did. Let them shoot outside shots, the ones that normally drive. Just play good defense." @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 22, 2022
That starts with forcing Copper into as many contested perimeter jumpers as possible. If they do that, they’ll be sending the fans home happy.
From the Vault
A little more Beyonce in your life will do you some good!
And happy birthday, Kobe!