Sequels are always hard to pull off. The original leaves such a great impression on you that doing it again becomes intimidating. We're all watching to see if you can build on what worked the first time, if you're taking the story in a new direction, or if you fall short of the gold standard you set in part one. The pressure is on, but if you pull it off, the sequel will be memorable in its own ways. When all else fails, just think of this great bit of advice from an all time great sequel:
"There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."
On Wednesday night, the New York Liberty hosted the Los Angeles Sparks at Barclays Center. This was the second half of a back-to-back for both teams as they squared off at Barclays the night before. When you get obliterated like the Sparks did the night before, you’re gonna come out breathing fire. Los Angeles jumped out to a 24-8 lead after the first quarter as they jumped on a Liberty team that was sleepwalking throughout the opening stages of the game.
That Brittany Sykes layup gave LA their biggest lead of the game at 28-8. After Sykes got a technical foul, the Liberty arose from their slumber. They went on an extended 14-3 run to get the game down to 11 and within striking distance. The Sparks regained their bearings and got the lead back up to 15, but the Liberty made the push that finally got them back into it and over the hump.
One thing that’s true about the Sparks is they’re not a good jump shooting team. They’re last in the league in three pointers attempted and three point percentage. They’re a team that does well when cutting to the basket and in Tuesday’s game, actually won the points in the paint battle. In the second half, New York made it a point to clog the paint. They broke out the zone defense and held LA to only eight made field goals after half time. And of those eights, only one was outside of the paint. We asked Natasha Howard about the defensive adjustments and she said:
Natasha Howard on defensive adjustment: "Packed the paint. That's one thing LA wanted to do: drive into the paint. That was our focus, no easy points [down low]. We made other players score besides Nneka and Sykes, and let the ball go to players we wanted to shoot." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 4, 2022
And true enough, they made it work. Nneka Ogwumike only took one shot in the fourth quarter (a three point play early in the quarter) and Sykes’ only attempt was a wide open three pointer late in the fourth that she airballed. Defense is all about making sure the right players take shots and for the Liberty, getting the ball out of Ogwumike’s hands and crowding her was essential to the comeback.
Generally speaking, the Liberty don’t force many turnovers. They’re second to last in the WNBA in opponent’s turnover rate, but they went against type tonight. They forced nine second half Sparks turnovers, which fueled their comeback and had the Barclays Center crowd rocking
“Huge. She’s been grinding away through the highs and lows.”— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 4, 2022
The Liberty battled back from 20 points down to defeat the Sparks. I asked Sabrina Ionescu about a hustle play from Marine Johannès late in the game that helped fuel the comeback. @Winsidrhttps://t.co/MZd4x8HpXK pic.twitter.com/mJ5TabUOsb
In her post-game comments, Sandy Brondello noted that she wanted the team to get those stops so they could get out and run to spread out the Sparks and beat the traps on defense they were setting.
This game was a rock fight and it showed the level of connectivity the Liberty have worked to attain all season long. Howard spoke on that in post and said:
“We’re very connected. When things didn’t go our way, we stood together, we huddled, we communicated, and moved on to the next thing. That’s one thing we’ve been doing a lot. Just growing together, sticking together, that sisterhood we’ve been talking about. This game was not pretty, and it came down to the wire. At the end of the day, we stayed together and we all brought in. We hold each other like [Sabrina Ionescu] said, too.”
The great thing about having a superstar player is that you always trust them to get going. They can be mired in a funk, but you know that sooner or later, they’re gonna figure it out. Sabrina Ionescu is a one of one and when the chips are on the line, you can count on her. She scored 11 of her game high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Liberty fought all the way back to finally capture the lead. For much of the night, Sykes and Jordin Canada were making things tough on her. However, she upped the aggressiveness late and found a way. She scored the final eight Liberty points and sealed the final score with this clutch midrange jumper:
In postgame, she was asked if there was ever any hesitation when she’s open even on nights she’s struggling
“I don’t even question myself there. If I’m open, I’m gonna shoot it. It’s why you put in years and years of work, to be able to get to that position whether the ball goes in on a night like that or not. You play the percentages and an open shot is is a good shot.”
That’s what you need. She noted that the team shot terribly tonight, but they kept the faith and kept grinding.
Team co-governor, Clara Wu Tsai, was in the building tonight cheering her team. She and the other co-governor, Joe Tsai, were in the news earlier in the day as they will have a theater in Geffen Hall named in their honor after they made a $50 million donation to the New York Philharmonic. The Tsais are huge art fans and the Barclays Center will be hosting the Basquiat Project on Sunday and Monday. The Project will feature 150 pieces created by middle school and high school students in Brooklyn. That’s what’s up.
Joining Wu Tsai in the building was the other home team, the Brooklyn Nets! Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neale, Alondes Williams, and Joe Harris were on hand to cheer on their peers and show some love.
In addition, two of last year’s assistant coaches, Adam Harrington and Tiago Splitter were on hand with their daughters. The contingent were among 5,315 fans on hand.
One thing that’s been consistent about Liberty games this season is the crowd is pumped to be there, gives the team that extra boost, and makes the game an incredibly fun atmosphere. It adds to the experience and makes Liberty games a must attend. It’s great to see the Nets pull up.
Crystal Dangerfield has had such a positive impact since her insertion into the starting five. She gives the team one more plus ballhandler that can run the offense, get the ball moving in transition, and guard the opponent’s best guard. Sabrina Ionescu spoke about CD’s game and said:
“She’s been great on both sides of the ball. She usually guards the best guard on defense and she has a super big assignment on offense of just getting us into our offense, getting everyone the ball, getting us set. She played huge minutes tonight. She’s continued to grow. She’s continued to find her role and find her stride on this team. It’s really nice to see her blossom into the point guard we all believe and know she is. She made huge plays for us down the stretch. Whether it was steals or getting to the basket, setting up people. We hold her to that standard every single game and she’s gonna continue to get better.”
The Liberty will be facing elite guards every night from here on out, and Dangerfield’s contributions will become even more important.
In mid July, Marine Johannes was experiencing a dip. She was struggling and the weight of year round, high stakes basketball was starting to take its toll. In recent games, she’s gotten her groove back. And with that groove comes spellbinding passes!
For as amazing as that pass was, that was her second best pass of the evening. Coming in first...
Whew! In postgame, Sandy Brondello spoke about the awe of watching Johannes after coaching against her internationally over the years:
“It’s great. We needed that. They were putting so much pressure on Sab and Marine, obviously, can get around screens a little better, but her passing ability and what she sees is amazing. Even some of the bounce passes back to the post players. Them just being ready, I think they’re used to it now. Make sure you’re looking because Marine’s gonna throw a pass that’s fantastic. We need her playing like that. She overthinks it a little bit, [and I tell her] “you’ve got the green light here. Go and be you.” I think that’s important. I thought defensively she did a good job as well. She was a key reason why we won this.”
And one more for the road...
The Liberty hit the road for a four game road trip. They’ve got two days off (and a nice get together at Sandy’s house!) The first stop will be in Phoenix against the Mercury on Saturday night. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.
- Box Score: New York Liberty 64, Los Angeles Sparks 61 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: New York Liberty 64, Los Angeles Sparks 61 (Video) - WNBA
- Sabrina Ionescu leads New York Liberty to franchise-record 20-point comeback (Video) - ESPN
- Nets’ Alondes Williams joins Ben Simmons, others at Liberty game - Cody Taylor - Yahoo! Sports