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Liberty use strong second half to beat Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When you’re trying to make it to the top of the mountain, you’re going to get tested by everybody in your path. With all of the talent in the WNBA, there are no easy nights and it takes a total team effort to win. The players are too good and you have to make sure you follow your gameplan to get the job done. It may take a while, but once you’re locked in, the sky’s the limit.

On Saturday afternoon, the New York Liberty were back in action as they took on the undefeated Connecticut Sun. At 3-0, the Sun have been a pleasant surprise as their defense and toughness has stayed the same even with all the roster changes. The Sun used that toughness to build a six point lead at halftime. Per Sandy Brondello, the home team was “sleeping” in the first half and weren’t aggressive enough to match Connecticut. After half, the game flipped and the team was lot more purposeful in their actions.

That started with getting downhill more often. Led by Courtney Vandersloot and Breanna Stewart, the Liberty picked things up in a major way. They were able to figure out the Connecticut defense and find easy baskets at the rim.

Those clean looks at the rim also sprung them open from three point range. In the first half, the Liberty were a surprising 1-of-5 from 3-point range as the Sun, typically a poor deep shooting team, went 6-of-15 from three. After the break, things went back to normal as CT went 2-of-8 from deep while NY went a robust 8-of-17. New York upped the tempo and it paid off in a major way.

Brondello spoke about the adjustment from half one to half two and gave a pretty great answer:

“I think we were just playing with them and their physicality was taking us out of what we wanted to do. We were keeping the ball on one side. We weren’t playing what we had worked on all through the week. So, the beauty of a veteran team, an experienced team: We can make adjustments and they can obviously do what we’re telling them to do. We had way better execution but it started with our defense. More energy, more easy baskets, more open looks. We had a lot of great contributions - you know, players contributing tonight. Stewie, you know, got going, we exploited what they wanted to do against her and I thought Slootie was great. And KT, she was really physical on defense. That certainly helped us.”

The Liberty aren’t where they want to be just yet, but games like these go a long way in getting them where they ultimately want to go.

KT’s Contributions

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Liberty acquired Jonquel Jones in a January trade, they didn’t just acquire the 2021 MVP. They also acquired then-Dallas Wing Kayla Thornton; understandably, her inclusion in the trade was not front-page news. Jones, in addition to an MVP award, has four WNBA All-Star Games under her belt and, just last season, was the centerpiece of an Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun team. Thornton, meanwhile, had averaged double digits just once in her seven-year career, scoring 10.4 points per game (on 10.7 shot attempts per game) for a 2019 Dallas team that finished 10-24. Her résumé simply didn’t stack up to Jones’.

But that’s true of most players. ‘KT’ is proving that she was far more than just a throw-in among New York’s off-season moves. She finished Saturday’s home victory with a team-high plus-minus of +19, and while single-game plus-minus can get a bit wonky, it absolutely reflected her play on the court. A 6/7/2 stat line isn’t eye-popping, but Thornton played physical defense, got on the ground for loose balls, and crashed the glass at every opportunity:

“She wants to win. She’s a winner. So we’re lucky to have her on our team,” said Head Coach Sandy Brondello post-game. “And I spoke to her in the tunnel on the way back to the locker room, and I said just how important she is to our success. She might not take one shot, but she’s still gonna be so important because of what she brings. She’s not a high-usage player and she’s fine with that. You can always rely on her for effort and energy.”

Breanna Stewart was a little less polished when praising Thornton’s efforts, but just as effective at getting the message across: “When KT was coming to New York, I was like, ‘S**t, this is great. I don’t have to go against her.’ If you’ve been guarded by KT it’s physical, she’s in you.”

Yes, KT is coming off the bench. And yes, she was the fourth-biggest name the Liberty acquired this off-season. But make no mistake about it, Kayla Thornton is integral to this team.

Welcome home

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

For seven seasons, Rebecca Allen was a valuable member of the Liberty franchise. From 2015-2022, Allen’s defense, timely cuts to the basket, and three point shooter made her a perfect rotation player and fan favorite. Bec went to Connecticut in the JJ trade

“I’ll be honest, I’m emotional. I feel really emotional about it just because there’s so many people that I love in this place, and I think that’s just a really nice thing to come back into. But mostly [I feel] excitement. I think it’s just really exciting to be back out here. It’s a place where I’ve created some memories in general. So yeah, it’s more good than bad.”

Allen was asked to sum up her emotions about returning and said:

“I feel it’s just nice to see everyone here but at the same time, it’s it’s about playing. It’s about coming out in with new team now. It’s a totally different dynamic, and one I’m really enjoying. And so I think whilst I’ve really enjoyed all those memories I’ve created there, right now I just feel so present and it’s been a really enjoyable time so far [in Connecticut].”

In pregame, Stefanie Dolson spoke about her time with Bec and said

The Liberty played a tribute video for Bec and the home fans gave her a nice ovation when she appeared on the jumbotron. Allen’s time here in New York was great, and it’s exciting to see her back on the court and at full strength.

New beginnings

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s been a long road back for Nyara Sabally. The 2022 first round draft pick missed all of last season as she underwent a knee procedure. The Liberty have been taking it slow with Nyara as she works her way back and today was her professional debut. In 13 minutes, Sabally had six points and three rebounds. Her mobility on both sides of the ball and timeliness on the boards created good things for the Liberty and kept the Sun at bay

Sandy Brondello had high praise for her 6’5” rookie big in postgame:

“I think I told you guys she’s pretty impressive. I’m pretty sure I said that. Look, you see the potential in training camp from a player that hadn’t played at this level for so long. You just saw the potential and it’s like, ‘woah’. She’s really quick. She’s very explosive. She has good poise, too. She’s a little older being an international player. But I was really happy, I think she gave us really key minutes there. I just remember at the end of the quarter she stayed in place with Tiffany Hayes, I believe. She stayed right there. If you just rewatch it, the speed that she has. So Nyara is going to be a player that gets better and better. She hasn’t played a lot of basketball. So really excited to see how we can keep developing her.”

The Liberty have a perfect mix of vets and talented youngsters on the roster, and this is the perfect environment for Sabally to grow and develop as a player. They also have a lot of size, and a mobile big like Sabally can create new, exciting opportunities for her teammates.

Next up

Dallas Wings v Seattle Storm Photo by Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images

A cross-country flight, and a date with Breanna Stewart’s former team. The Liberty will face the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, May 30th, with tip-off schedule for just after 9:00 p.m. ET.