If you ever catch your favorite artist on tour, chances are the first night is gonna be a bit choppy. The setlist isn’t all the way locked in, the band is trying to find the perfect rhythm, and the artists are ironing things out for the remainder of the tour. The first night tends to be rocky, but it’s a long way to go.
The New York Liberty shook everything up from 2022. They brought in Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, and Jonquel Jones to form a formidable starting five alongside Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu. Throughout training camp, the Liberty mentioned that it would take time to get everything where they wanted it to be. And true to form, their opening night concert didn’t go the way they wanted it to as the Washington Mystics won 80-64.
The core of the Mystics team won a championship together in 2019 and have been together ever since. They’ve added to that core with the addition of Brittney Sykes and perhaps most importantly, Elena Delle Donne.
On the night, EDD paced the Mystics attack with a full line of 13 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a block on 5-9 shooting from the field.
For New York, it was a rough loss, but all is not lost. As Sandy Brondello noted in postgame:
“We can learn a lot from this. The team with the most chemistry certainly won tonight. We were not very good, and they were very good.”
When you have a new team, everyone tries to make sure everyone else gets fed. The players want to make that right, extra pass. It’s a good thing that the team is looking to find the best shot. However sometimes, making the extra pass can get you in trouble.
The number of the day is 22. That’s the amount of turnovers the Liberty had, and the Mystics were able to take full advantage with 18 points off of turnovers and 16 fastbreak points. A lot of the turnovers came from the team trying to make the extra pass instead of going with the opportunity that presented itself.
The theme of chemistry was something Sabrina Ionescu mentioned in her postgame commentary:
Ionescu on 22 TOs being chemistry or 'Stics defense: "A little bit of both. The more chemistry we build, it’ll take care of itself. It starts with me & Courtney being leads, taking ownership & being accountable. We forced it a bit. They’ve got great perimeter defenders." @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 20, 2023
The more reps you get with one another, the better you get and the more rhythm you develop. It won’t all get there on night one, but luckily for us, we have 40 tour dates to work with!
Sandy Brondello mentions it a lot, but she’s a big believer in getting to the basket. Two feet in the paint, attacking, and keeping the defense on its heels. When the Liberty offense started to have success, it was when they were able to generate good looks towards the basket. On a night when the Liberty were cold from downtown (7-31), they were able to have some success when they took it to the basket.
A lot of their three point misses were of the wide open variety, but the process was sound and getting open looks with the firepower the Liberty have is always a good thing. I asked Ionescu about that in post, and she said:
Ionescu: "A lot of those shots were great shots we normally make. It being the 1st game, that being the 3rd/4th time on the court together, it's just gonna grow... I take ownership for that. I missed a lot more than I will moving forward, and it's a snowball effect." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 20, 2023
Ionescu led all players in scoring with 18 points, but only went 7-20 from the field and only attempted three free throws on the evening. As the Liberty figure everything out, they’ll start to light up the scoreboard when they create clean looks for each other. Patience is the name of the game, and the Liberty will look to clean some things up as they continue their world tour.
Along with the big three, Kayla Thornton made her Liberty debut. Thornton came over from the Dallas Wings in the trade that brought Jonquel Jones to NY, and KT will play a key role as the sixth player. The stars will get all of the attention, which means she’ll get her fair share of open shots
Coach Brondello was impressed by KT’s effort, and said:
“I liked it, particularly in the second half. She brought some defensive intensity, which we needed. We need that from her on the perimeter, and I moved her to the four for a little bit because [Tianna] Hawkins was hurting us and we needed a little bit more speed. She made some open shots. She got some offensive boards for us, made some open shots and that’s what we need every single day. I thought in the first half, she could have been a little bit more aggressive, but she was great. She gave us really great energy in the second half.”
Thornton is someone that brings a relentless to the court every time she enters the game. Fans love players like that, and Liberty fans will get plenty of opportunities to watch KT provide that spark.
The Liberty come home to Brooklyn for their home opener on Sunday afternoon against the Indiana Fever. See you at the Clays!
- Box Score: Washington Mystics 80, New York Liberty 64 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: Washington Mystics 80, New York Liberty 64 (Video) - WNBA
- Mystics lock down new-look Liberty 80-64 in WNBA opener - AP
- New York Liberty call blowout loss to Mystics ‘a huge lesson’ - Alexa Philippou - ESPN
- Mystics make a powerful opening statement, thump Liberty - Kareem Copeland - Washington Post