It pays to experiment. The race to the top is a long one with plenty of highs and lows along the way. When the lows happen, you can’t dwell on too much. You pick yourself up and get back on the grind. When you do, you learn from it and can apply it to what you do next. And once you do, that’s when the fun starts.
The New York Liberty are still trying to figure things out. Coming into Sunday’s game against the Dallas Wings, they stood at 5-2. It’s a good record, but to a person they feel like they can be a lot better. They haven’t put a complete, 40 minute game together quite yet, but they’re getting there. They got a little bit closer on Sunday as they beat the Wings, 102-93.
The Wings are the second best offensive rebounding team in the WNBA this season, and that showed itself in the first half. Dallas grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and scored 13 second chance points. Those second chance points helped them build a nine point first half lead and eventual six point lead at halftime.
However, the Liberty got a lot more assertive on the boards and kept the Wings to only three offensive rebounds after halftime. When Dallas did miss, New York turned up the heat and got moving in transition
They also got the ‘clays to turn up with this awesome sequence in the third
Star players making big time plays at Barclays with our main man Ryan Ruocco on the call? Sounds like the good old days with the Brooklyn Nets. And speaking of the Nets, Mikal Bridges along with Clara and Joe Tsai were in the house cheering on the home team.
In postgame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that she and the defense made some coverage adjustments to keep Dallas off the boards. The experience of the group shined through as they were able to stymie Dallas’ attack. Arike Ogunbowale led the Wings in scoring with 25 points and started off 4-of-5 from the field. However, the Liberty threw a bunch of traps at her and contested everything she attempted as they held her to only 7-of-20 from the field on the afternoon. Courtney Vandersloot, Betnijah Laney, and Marine Johannes had the assignment of guarding Ogunbowale, and they were outstanding as they fought hard and made things tough on the Dallas All-Star.
The work of Jonquel Jones in particular deserves some mention. Brondello noted that JJ’s foot is fully healed and now it’s just a matter of being patient as she continues to get where she wants to be. She played a season high 26 minutes and had a solid all around game of nine points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Sandy shouted out her work on the boards and her decision making as well:
That’s the good stuff.
Breanna Stewart put forth another all around excellent game for the hometown faithful. Stewie led all players in points with 32 on 15-20 from the field (with zero free throw attempts!). She filled up the rest of the stat sheet with nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and a steal.
You almost start to run out of superlatives when discussing Stewart and her excellence on both sides of the court. Stewie’s been amazing, and she made another bit of history along the way
A one-of-a-kind stat line for @breannastewart:— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) June 11, 2023
15-20 FG (75%)
The only player in WNBA history with 30+ PTS, 7+ REB, 5+ AST, and 3+ BLK in a game while shooting 70% or better from the field.https://t.co/6icA3uG3ol pic.twitter.com/XnbepRYYGi
As a team, the Liberty made some history of their own as well. Their season high 31 assists (and season tying low 11 turnovers) led to them crossing the 100 point threshold for the second straight game, a first in franchise history. The unselfishness of this Liberty team has been one of their most impressive traits. They lead the league in assists and are able to leverage all of the attention the stars get into quality shots almost every time down. They’re developing that rhythm day-by-day, and when they’ve got it down pat, look out.
Today was Pride Day at Barclays Center as the Liberty honored the LGBT+ community. In a landscape where corporations discard LGBTQ+ members of the community thanks to bad faith nonsense and with the greater risk LGBT+ people are facing in the United States, it means a lot to have a league like the WNBA and a team like the Liberty be a safe and welcoming space for everyone. Stefanie Dolson spoke about that in pregame and said:
In postgame, Sabrina Ionescu was asked about the fan experience at the ‘clays and said:
Sabrina Ionescu on the fan experience at Liberty games:— New York Liberty Videos (@SNYLiberty) June 12, 2023
"I'm just happy it's creating an experience for people to want to come back and be a part of this, because I think it's super important for the community and for New York." pic.twitter.com/5WTI6XfxZE
Whether on the court or off, the Liberty have made it a point to be in and of community. At its best, sports is a fun, safe, and welcoming space for everybody. The Liberty embody that in what they do, who they partner with, and who they uplift. Everyone is welcome with the Liberty, and it’s an ideal legislators should emulate as they try to create a better, safer world.
It was a festive mood at Barclays as the team welcomed Natasha Howard back to town in her return to New York. The team played a nice video tribute for Howard and the fans gave her a standing ovation as well.
We also got some sisterly love as the Sabally sisters played against each other for the first time. Big sister Satou has been one of the best players in the WNBA this season
“I’m super happy for her. I think this entire league knows what she’s capable of doing, playing one through five. I played with her, Stewie has too [on Fenerbahce], so we’ve been able to see her potential. And I’m happy that she’s healthy and coming into her own and confident because she deserves it. She works really hard. She’s super skilled and so I’m happy to see her flourish this year and know that she has a great, great career ahead of her.”
Big sis had 17 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and two assists. However, little sis Nyara came away with the early family bragging rights. In pregame, Satou was overjoyed discussing Nyara’s development as a player and noted that her floater game is really, really good already. Liberty fans have gotten to see Nyara get better by the minute when she’s been on the court, and it’s exciting to see where her game will be when they meet up again in July.
We are BG
On Saturday morning, Brittney Griner and her Phoenix Mercury teammates were harassed at a Dallas airport by a right wing hack that shall remain nameless. The incident shook the league up and re-ignited conversations about player safety and travel conditions across the league. In pregame, Satou Sabally, one of the Vice Presidents of the WNBPA spoke about it and said in part:
“What happened to BG cannot just be solved with an apology from the league, but with action. And I do think that they will follow that through. We deserve better. We all deserve better.”
Sandy Brondello noted that the Liberty are traveling with security this season and teams like the Atlanta Dream will have their own security detail going forward. This issue won’t be going away, and the onus is on WNBA team owners to figure it out. The same can also be said for the W’s parent league, as Net Income pointed out in the latest NetsDaily Off-Season Report:
Alternately, the NBA should take things into its own hands. The men’s league is about to get two huge financial windfalls in the next three years or so: the new TV/streaming rights deal in 2024-25, then expansion shortly thereafter. Maybe some of that money can be earmarked for the women’s league.
We’ll keep an eye out as this situation continues to develop.
Drive and kick
Sabrina Ionescu is at her best when she’s on the move and attacking downhill. She’s a great finisher at the rim and has such excellent court vision that creates shots for her self and her teammates. She struggled early as she went 1-6 from the field in the first half, but started to figure out the Wings defense as the game progressed. It started with her breaking the Wings down off the dribble and driving towards the basket
Sabrina Ionescu has done a nice job of being aggressive with her drives in the second half. Paint touches have been key. Gets the screen from Stewart, no real coverage, turns the corner and finishes. Drive and kick to Stewie for 3. pic.twitter.com/UJMoOIH5kh— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 11, 2023
In the second half, she went 6-10 from the field (and 4-4 from the free throw line) in route to a cool 22 points, six rebound, and six assist game. In post, I asked Sab how she was able to adjust to the Wings defense, and she said:
“Just continuing to get to my spots. You know, at some point they had Awak [Kuier] on me and Arike [Ogunbowale] on Stewie. And I think, just the fact that we’re able to stay composed and really read the defense, attack downhill. When we’re able to push like that out in transition, I’m able to get some open looks, attack downhill, get to the basket, get to the free throw line, it opens up the floor for everyone else. And same with Stewie when she’s attacking and we’re running in transition, it’s just tough basketball to guard.”
Ionescu is fourth in the W in threes attempted per game at 7.9, and has made a career high 42.9 percent of them. Brondello noted Ionescu takes and makes threes from NBA range (i.e. 25 feet and further) and that opens up the floor even more for the team. If you can bend the defense to its absolute limit from beyond the arc, you get a runway to the basket once you get past the initial wave of defenders. The Liberty are a hard problem to solve, and I don’t envy the teams that have to figure out ways to stop them.
Mikal Bridges brings a friend to Barclays
Mikal Bridges has become a regular at Barclays Center for Liberty games. He was courtside again Sunday with the Tsais and this time, brought a friend, Celtics wing Grant Williams who had hand surgery days before. The two stayed the entire game, having a good time.
Mikal Bridges and Grant Williams are loving the energy in Barclays at the Wings-Liberty game pic.twitter.com/vGUyFVPuw6— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 11, 2023
Williams, a 6’6” wing, is a restricted free agent this summer.
The Liberty are back in action on Tuesday night against the Atlanta Dream. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET at the ‘clays.