You never want to fall behind. When you fall behind, you put extra pressure on yourself, you try to force it, and you become desperate. With that desperation, the margin of error you have reduces to zero. With no margin, you have to land everything or else. And once you miss, the clock strikes midnight.
On Tuesday night, the New York Liberty were a little bit shorthanded. Sabrina Ionescu was ruled out with hamstring tightness prior to the game. It was the first game in two seasons that Ionescu has missed due to injury and in pregame, Sandy Brondello mentioned that it was a precautionary measure. The Liberty have some off days coming up and with a long WNBA season, it’s better to air on the side of caution. It’s hard to replace a player someone who’s shooting over 40 percent from three point range and most recently set a franchise record for three pointers. Even still, the Liberty had a chance to stack another win against the Atlanta Dream.
A consistent bug-a-boo for the Liberty this season is finishing possessions. The team does a great job in the initial defense, but can’t bring it all the way home and secure the rebound. The Liberty are the third worst defensive rebounding team in the WNBA this season, and the Dream are the third best offensive rebounding team this year. And true to form...
Atlanta snagged 13 offensive rebounds and scored 16 chance points on the night. Sandy Brondello highlighted that and said:
“16 second chance points, that’s tough and it’s something we have to make sure we get better at because it’s happening in every game.”
It’s an area that the Liberty have to clean up and be more consistent at. When they own the boards, it allows them to get out in transition and those easy baskets.
With Ionescu out, Marine Johannes took her place into the starting five. Johannes played a season high 33 minutes and had 18 points and four assists. She went on a late fourth quarter barrage and almost pulled a rabbit out of her hat
Having Johannes fully back and able to heat up at a moment’s notice takes an already solid Liberty offense and can make them into something completely out of this world. Sandy talked about her star guard in post and said:
Sandy Brondello on Marine Johannès' shotmaking: "I was proud of her, she didn't overthink it. I want her to play instinctually. She made some big shots for us, and she'll continue to get more comfortable the longer she's here." (Q: @GeoffJMags)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 14, 2023
Ultimately, the process for the Liberty was sound for much of the night. They were able to drive to the rim and kick out for open threes. However, the shots weren’t falling as they only shot 29.6 percent from three point range. In all of their losses this season, they’ve shot under 30 percent from three.
I asked Courtney Vandersloot about it, and she said:
Courtney Vandersloot: "Early on, we got really good looks, we just didn't knock 'em down. That happens sometimes. We just didn't get that rhythm we've had in the past, and didn't hit enough shots tonight. It happens." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 14, 2023
The approach is there, just gotta stick with it, keep the ball moving and trust that the shots will fall.
On a night where Breanna Stewart shot a career worst 1-14 from the field (although Stewie went 10-12 from the free throw line and contributed with 13 rebounds, six assists, four blocks, and one steal), the Liberty needed someone to cover for her on offense. Luckily, Betnijah Laney is here to answer the call.
In pregame, she mentioned she’s been practicing taking more open shots, and with the talent on the roster, those shots will be there in abundance
The best players are the ones who can adapt to any role assigned to them. On the night, Laney finished with 17 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and 3-5 from three point range. When the Liberty are whole, they have five top tier offensive players in the lineup and they all pose unique threats to opponents. Having a vet like Laney who can be malleable and take on any role that’s needed for a particular game allows for so much flexibility and gives the Liberty more room to experiment.
Laney sets the tone on defense, and she had the primary assignment of guarding Dream star Rhyne Howard. Howard has been terrific so far in the W, but has struggled against the Liberty in her young career. In six career against NY, she is only shooting 30.9 percent from the field. I asked Laney in pregame about defending a player as good as Howard, and she attributed that to knowing your personnel, staying aggressive, helping each other, and doing your best as a team. Howard went 4-11 from the field with three turnovers and five fouls as Laney and the Liberty made things tough on her
Great defense always travels and on days when the shots aren’t falling, the effort on that side of the ball will always keep you within striking distance.
Being at the game, I missed this moment live, but the amazing Out of Context Marine Johannes Twitter page captured this wholesome moment between Bee and MJ
That’s what you love to see.
With so many great players on this Liberty roster, someone was going to have to fall out of the rotation. For Jocelyn Willoughby, she hasn’t gotten many minutes, but has kept herself locked in and ready to contribute. She got some playing time tonight and did a bunch of the little things as she helped on the boards, made two free throws and did a good job guarding Rhyne Howard. Sandy Brondello spoke about Joc’s game and said:
“I thought she did really good. She came out there and it was a different look for Howard. She rebounded for us. She did all the little things well, and you know, credit to Joc. She hasn’t had many opportunities, but she’s staying ready and that’s that’s all she can do, control the controllables.”
Your role may change, but how you prepare yourself every day shouldn’t. Throughout her time on the Liberty, Willoughby has always been ready to contribute when her number’s called and does what she can to help the team. Salute to her.
Bridges and Co. keep showing up
Mikal Bridges has now showed up at every Liberty home game and last night he was joined by two assistant coaches, Ryan Forehan-Kelly and newly hired Corey Vinson. Ellie, the Liberty mascot, was appreciative.
The Liberty have a few days off before they’re back in action against the Phoenix Mercury. Tip off at high noon on Sunday.
- Box Score: Atlanta Dream 86, New York Liberty 79 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: Atlanta Dream 86, New York Liberty 79 (Video) - WNBA
- Liberty lose to Atlanta Dream, 86-79, with Sabrina Ionescu missing game due to hamstring injury - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News