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Tough third quarter dooms Liberty in loss to the Wings

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The New York Liberty were back in action after a week off for the All Star break. It was Camp Day, hence the one o’clock tip time, and the kids constituted a large part of a sold out crowd. New York’s opponent on Wednesday afternoon? The Dallas Wings, who find themselves fighting to separate themselves from the rest of the WNBA’s second-tier contenders after an 11-9 first half.

And fight they did. The first 20 minutes of the contest were a tight-knit affair that did not deviate much from all that the Liberty showed us in the first half of the season. The home team shot a blistering 8-16 from deep, thanks to Sabrina Ionescu picking up right where she left off in her record-setting 3-point contest over All-Star Weekend. Ionescu made four 3-pointers en route to 19 first-half points, and became the second-fastest player ever to 200 career threes (trailing just Katie Smith):

Unfortunately, the first half also featured a common bugaboo for the Liberty prior to the All-Star Break: weak play in the paint. Despite Dallas making just three 3-pointers in the first half, their offense was humming thanks to a barrage of paint points, many of which came after offensive rebounds.

Yet, the Liberty took a 51-49 lead into the half, despite trailing for 17 minutes in a row. Not that it felt sustainable; New York was losing the possession battle once again, getting dominated on the glass and unable to force turnovers, only being kept afloat by fiery outside shooting.

It appeared that Head Coach Sandy Brondello said what she needed to say to wake her team at the half-time break, though. Ionescu dropped in her fifth 3-pointer to cap a dazzling transition opportunity for the Liberty, which brought their lead to a game-high five points just after play resumed in the third quarter.

However, not only would that be Ionescu’s last bucket of the day, but it would be the last time the many of the kids in the Barclays Center had something to cheer for. Their home team quickly lost control of the game, allowing an extended 24-6 run to the Wings, a run that proved to be the nail in the coffin.

Arike Ogunbowale played like the 2023 All-Star she is, pouring in 25 points on the day, including four of her team’s seven 3-pointers:

Elsewhere, it was a team effort for Dallas, who relied on balanced scoring behind their star, continually crashing the glass and dominating inside. They finished with a staggering 50 points in the paint, as well as 12 offensive rebounds to the Liberty’s eight. By the game’s final buzzer, the Wings had taken ten more shots than the Liberty, and eleven more free throws. It’s hard to lose a lot of games doing that.

“They did a great job rebounding,” said Marine Johannés after the game. “Like I said, they are really tall.”

Part of the Liberty’s inability to counter Dallas’ height was due to more foul trouble for their bigs, including five for Jonquel Jones and six, the quota, for Nyara Sabally, for both of whom this has been a recurring problem. Sandy Brondello referred to both physicality and defensive rebounding as areas of focus for her squad in the second half of the season. The Liberty are not off to good start there.

But it wasn’t just the rebounding and (lack of) physicality that doomed the home team. The Wings turned the ball over just twice on Wednesday, tying a WNBA record. Two turnovers! The Wings weren’t just comfortable on offense, though that they certainly were, but the lack of defensive pressure trickled down: While the Liberty had some beautiful offensive possessions in transitions, those were few and far between. The teal simply did not impose themselves in this one.

New York trailed 78-67 entering the fourth quarter, and quickly watched their deficit balloon to 16. After a quick 7-0 burst which cut the lead to single digits for all of half-a-minute, the Wings quickly answered to dead the competitive portion of Wednesday’s affair. Marine Johannés did hit a trio of triples, a pleasant sight given her recent shooting struggles, but the last make came with just four seconds left, an absolute bit of window dressing to ensure just a ten-point loss.

Breanna Stewart finished with 25 points in an average performance for her, shooting 9-19 from the field. She almost swooped in and saved the day, as she’s been doing all season for the Liberty, in the fourth quarter, but a couple shots early in the period that would have changed the complexion of the game rimmed in and out.

The other star additions to this Liberty squad, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones, combined for 18 points but nine turnovers as well. In what’s been a common theme for her, Jones had spurts of effectiveness offensively, shooting 5-of-8, but was too often the forgotten woman, either not seeing her number called often enough by her teammates and coaches, or seeing it called too often by the referees.

Dallas, meanwhile, had a very balanced scoring attack behind Ogunbowale, with former Lib Natasha Howard scoring 14 points, and All-Star Satou Sabally and Teaira McCowan each putting up 15.

It was a disappointing start to the back-end of the season for the New York Liberty, who did not respond well to the key questions Sandy Brondello had for her team after the break. But, thanks to the double-edged sword of their back-loaded schedule, they’ll have plenty of opportunity to right the ship in the coming days.

Be like water

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a wonderful year for Breanna Stewart as she’s played like an MVP and has the Liberty on top of the Eastern Conference standings. She’s also been having a bunch of success off the court as the latest colorway of her Stewies will be available for purchase at the beginning of August

PUMA has continued to make gains in the sneaker market, and Stewart’s been a big part of that.

Grow the game

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Today was Camp Day at Barclays, and although the Liberty couldn’t bring home the W, they put on a show for the young kids in attendance and gave them something to remember. In post, Sabrina Ionescu spoke about the

With 9,012 fans in attendance, it was one of the biggest crowds of the season at Barclays.

The WNBA has always made sure to build connections with the fans, and games like today can encourage the next generation of kids to follow and play the game of basketball.

Accessibility is a key part of that growth, and that showed itself with the collaboration with Barbie today and during All Star weekend. The game was broadcast on primetime for the first time, and viewership was up by a great deal. We asked Stefanie Dolson about the WNBA growing its cultural footprint, and she told us:

“I think just expanding. I think expanding our viewership, expanding our fans, the type of fans that we have. I think more people are getting more interested in watching the WNBA, and that starts with something like [Amazon] Prime. So many people in the world have Prime, so they’re able to watch our games. And then the Barbie collab, that’s another fan base that maybe we wouldn’t have had before. And so with WNBA All Star being as big as it was, I think it’s just growing our fans and our viewership, and I think it’s a good thing. I think the league should keep doing what they’re doing to continue growing.”

Accessibility will be critical if the WNBA wants to continue growing, and getting into as many projects and networks as possible is a great thing.

There were a lot of kids in the stands, and there were kids in the press room! Students from the Sports Storytelling class of the New York Times joined us for pregame and one student asked Sandy Brondello about how the publicity of the women’s World Cup will help women’s sports overall:

“Fantastic. I also coach Australia, and we had the World Cup in Australia last year, and it had the highest attendance of all World Cups. We have really great support. We’re a very multicultural country. We played China during the semifinal game and it was probably a 50/50 split, but that’s great because it’s fans coming out to support women’s basketball and women’s sport. Australians love sport. They love supporting it, male or female, and I think that’s great. There’s still ways to go obviously with the financial part of the game, but the World Cup in soccer is gonna be massive, especially with our team...

Women need to be appreciated more and I think all the support that they’ve given, it’s more about visibility, getting on TV and hopefully we continue to grow over the next decade.”

As the game continues to grow and gain interest, fans all around the world will get to follow along as they get to watch these awesome athletes do their thing.

Next up

Indiana Fever v Washington Mystics Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty are back on the road Friday night in DC against the Washington Mystics. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET.