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Liberty fight hard, but fall short to the Dallas Wings

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Win or lose, we’ll remember you by how hard you fight. If you don’t bring that effort and pride, you look back and wonder what could have been if you dedicated all your energy to the cause. Showing up is half the battle, and what you do when you get there is the other half. However, if you move with purpose, show up ready to compete, and give it your best shot, you can walk away with your head held high even if you don’t get the result.

The Liberty entered this contest without Natasha Howard and coming off of an ugly loss in which the team didn’t show up and sleptwalk through a disastrous loss to the Phoenix Mercury. In pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned Tash has a grade one ankle sprain. The squad will have to battle down the stretch without their All Star and do everything forward. Waiting for them were the red hot Dallas Wings, who have righted the ship and came into this one riding a four game winning streak. This was an intense game throughout, but Dallas used a big fourth quarter run to punch their ticket to the playoffs and do some damage to NY’s chances at the same time.

To say this game was chippy would be quite the understatement. There were three technical fouls and a whole lot of physical play. It felt like a playoff atmosphere and the players treated this with the level of playoff intensity that we love to see. Sabrina Ionescu was asked about the physical play and if she felt the squad lost their composure, and she said:

“We did stay composed. I was really proud of that. I think we were locked in from the beginning and we executed what we wanted to. We didn’t adjust well - we just didn’t finish the game off as we should’ve. We had a monster third quarter - I think monster second and third quarter to get us back in the game and actually take the lead. We play em again, so we have to go back, watch film, and figure out what we need to do to put us in a better position.”

The game was close entering the fourth, but Dallas took over. In postgame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that the Wings started switching on defense a lot more, which junked up New York’s attack and threw off their offensive mojo. Dallas’ athleticism stymied New York and the Liberty couldn’t get downhill as much as they needed to in the fourth. On nights when jumpers aren’t falling, getting to the basket becomes even more critical. However, with Howard out, they are without their best finisher at the rim and their best low post option. A difficult chase to make it to the playoffs has gotten a bit harder and the clock is close to striking midnight.

Offensive rebounds have bitten the Liberty in the butt at various times this year, and tonight was no exception. Dallas snagged nine o-boards and got 17 second chance points as a result. Without Howard, the Liberty are a lot smaller than they’d like to be. It’s going to take a total team effort to crash the boards and keep things as close to even as possible.

Bench energy

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Marine Johannes has gotten her groove back. After a dip in July, she’s back to playing like herself, which means more awesome highlights!

MJ scored 19 points off the bench and tied her WNBA career high with five three pointers. The Liberty need a ton of scoring punch and Johannes’ ability to heat up at a moment’s notice opens up a world of possibility for her teammates. Ionescu spoke about what MJ brought to the table tonight, and said:

The team will need more from Johannes as they wind the season down.

Big T and the T is for trouble

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Along with Ionescu, Teaira McCowan was named Player of the Week for the previous week. Big T had been on a double double streak entering this game as her interior presence has made life hell on opposing bigs. In pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that if McCowan got deep touches in the low post, it was going to be very difficult to stop her. And true enough, that’s what happened tonight. Big T scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 28 minutes as she wreaked havoc in the paint.

The Liberty threw a bunch of doubles at McCowan, but the Wings were able to move the ball all over the court and make the Liberty pay for all the focus on her. Marina Mabrey scored a career high 31 points and made three from downtown. Brondello mentioned it in the postgame and basketball analysts across the WNBA have noticed it, but the ball has been moving a lot more in Dallas with Arike Ogunbowale out. That’s something the Wings will have to figure out in the offseason. Watch that space.

Keep fighting

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Sabrina Ionescu has been setting a lot of records, and she added one more to her list of accolades tonight. With her first quarter assist to Han Xu, Ionescu set the team’s single season assist record, surpassing Liberty Ring of Honor member, Teresa Weatherspoon. She also managed to scorch the Texas nets in the third quarter. It was there she scored 18 points and went toe to toe with the Wings and everything they threw at her.

She was also the only Liberty player to get to the free throw line and she was a career high 12-12 from the charity stripe. She’s the team’s best x main downhill threat and an amazing free throw shooter on top of it. The team will have to find more ways to get downhill so they can take some pressure off of the shooters and create more opportunities for Ionescu to make magic happen.

In post, she was asked about the camaraderie on the team and how it helps them go through a daunting stretch like this

“I don’t think anyone on this team would be here if we didn’t have each other’s back, regardless of the standings, regardless of if this was the first game of the season or the last. We have to fight for one another. We have to have each other’s backs and that’s at any point in the season. We have one another, and that’s all we have, and that’s what we need to rely on.”

For all the talk about culture in New York basketball, the Liberty have developed a culture of sisterhood throughout this season. You see the players fight for each other, not let opponents try to punk them, and develop a sense of unity and friendship that will serve them on and off the basketball court. That sisterhood puts the organization on the right path to success and helps create a positive environment for everybody.

Next up

Las Vegas Aces v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re doing this dance one more time. Tip on Wednesday is after 8:00 p.m. ET.