Pressure builds character. When you face a tough challenge, how you respond to it reveals a lot. If you lose your composure and get too nervous, it can be a bad sign going forward. However, if you face it head on and overcome it, you become stronger and gain more confidence as a result.
On Friday night, the New York Liberty found themselves in a hole. They trailed by as much as 12 points throughout the game, but fought back to make it a game. However, they needed some magic to come away with a win. They were down one point with 14.4 seconds to go. Luckily, they have someone who can make magic happen whenever she has the ball in her hands...
When you have Breanna Stewart on your side, anything is possible. Stewie’s game winner helped the Liberty escape Chicago with a win over the Sky, 77-76. Stewie walked us through the play in postgame
“Get the ball and get to work.” Breanna Stewart’s thought process before hitting that game winner tonight to propel the Liberty to a one-point victory. pic.twitter.com/bReGQViQJd— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 3, 2023
The reigning Player of the Month led the way with another all around performance of 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and a steal. Similar to the game against the Seattle Storm, Stewart turned up in the second half and was too much to handle.
The win was New York’s fourth in a row and they’re sitting at 4-1 early in the WNBA season. Even with the win, there’s still plenty for Sandy Brondello’s club to clean up.
One consistent theme for the Liberty thus far is their slow starts. In most of their games, they start slow as the other team starts strong and sets the tempo. To their credit, they held the Sky to only 39.4 percent shooting from the field and forced nine turnovers after halftime. On their side, they started to figure out the Sky’s trapping defense and only turned it over twice after coughing it up nine times in the first half. Brondello was asked what the message to the group was in the locker room, and she said:
“We have to put together 40 minutes. You know, why are we playing as badly as we do in the first 20? We have to look at each other ourselves and each other. It’s what it comes down to and so the message is we’re happy that we won. It’s okay we can win ugly but we can learn a lot too. Now we have another opportunity to come back, go home and put on a better showing. So it’s early days but we need more of a sense of urgency.”
Now that the Liberty roster is whole, they’ll have a chance to build even more chemistry. With that comes hope that they lock in at the beginning of games so they can jump out to big leads and control the pace of the game.
Bee comes up big
Back in February, Betnijah Laney was at Team USA training camp and spoke about how her skill set would help her develop chemistry with her new teammates:
“I think to understand what we all do and try to help each other the best way that we can so we can display [our skills]. I think that we all complement each other really well with the different skill sets that we have. So it’s about coming together and putting that effort forth to help each other.”
With all the talent on this Liberty roster, everyone will have to sacrifice on offense. Laney in particular has sacrificed a lot as her usage rate is the lowest its been since 2019 when she was a member of the Indiana Fever. Tonight was a return to form as the former All Star had 17 points on 8-14 shooting in 30 minutes. Those buckets were essential with Sabrina Ionescu struggling from the field (1-7 in 25 minutes). New York crushed Chicago in the paint, outscoring them 42-30. Laney scored 12 of those paints as she was able to finish around and through the Sky’s interior defense:
With the reduced role on offense, Laney has been able to do more on defense and often gets the assignment of slowing down the opponent’s best scorer/ballhandler. Tonight, she drew the Marina Mabrey assignment and held the new Sky star to 5-14 from the field with three turnovers. Laney made every shot difficult on Mabrey
and hounded her up and down the court
In post, I asked Laney about her success in slowing down Mabrey and she said:
Betnijah Laney on defending Marina Mabrey: "It's a bit of a pride thing. I don't like to be scored on, I don't want to be scored on. It's just a matter of being aggressive and knowing my assignment." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 3, 2023
Laney’s absence last season was felt as the team didn’t have their leader to guide them in close games such as this one. Having an All Star’s scoring be a luxury is a blessing for Liberty fans and on nights when the other stars may not have it going, you can always count on Bee to make something great happen.
The big story coming into this game was the return of Courtney Vandersloot to Chicago. Sloot is one of the greatest athletes in Chicago sports history and was given a warm welcome by Chi City in pregame
Vandersloot had a nice showing as her eight points, eight assists, and three blocks kept her new team in the ballgame. Prior to the game, she spoke about the experience of returning to Chicago with her new club:
"Being a little out of my comfort zone with a new team, new system, new players, that's what's helped me grow. We're learning on the fly and trying to figure this out. We're taking steps every day to get better. My challenge is just trying to figure out what this team needs from me on a nightly basis. It looks different every night. We'll continue our journey and this is just part of it. I'm glad [this game] was earlier in the season and we can all move on."
Jobs come and go, but the relationships you build and memories you create with people last forever.
These teams do it again, this time in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon. Tip after 2:00 p.m. ET.
- Box Score: New York Liberty 77, Chicago Sky 76 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: New York Liberty 77, Chicago Sky 76 (Video) - WNBA
- Courtney Vandersloot victorious in ‘surreal’ return to Chicago - M.A. Voepel - ESPN
- From ‘The General’ to general manager? Courtney Vandersloot already preparing for post-playing career - Annie Constabile - Chicago Sun-Times