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Liberty use a record-setting first quarter to dominate Fever

Are the Liberty finally catching fire? It sure looked like that Sunday when they blew up the Liberty, starting with a 44-point first quarter.

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Indiana Fever v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Sometimes, you need to send a message. When you’re aiming for the biggest prize in the game, you’ve got to let people know that you’re not to be trifled with. To win is one thing. To win and dominate is a whole other thing and something that puts everyone on notice. And with the road getting a lot harder from here, a big win can set the tone for the rest of your journey.

On Sunday afternoon, the New York Liberty kicked off their four game homestand with an afternoon tilt against the Indiana Fever. The Fever have already surpassed their 2022 win total already and the sky is the limit for this young team. For as much potential that they have, they aren’t at an elite level yet. New York set the tone early and cruised to a 101-83 victory in front of the fans at the Barclays Center. The Libs are now 16-5 on the WNBA season.

If you wanted to distill the game into one image, you could probably go with this

When you set a league record, you know you’ve had a great day at the office! Final score: 101-83.

What helped get those 44 first quarter points was the work Jonquel Jones did. Throughout the season, the Liberty have sought to establish the former WNBA MVP early and make sure she’s a featured part of the attack. Jones scored 10 first quarter points and was able to impact the game in a variety of ways:

In addition to the excellence on offense, Jones played a big part in slowing down budding superstar, Aliyah Boston. AB wore the Liberty out in their last meeting and her 3-pointer at the buzzer capped off a furious Indiana rally that sent the game to overtime. Today, Boston had her worst game as a professional. She only took three shots in 21 minutes and was only able to grab one rebound. The Liberty threw a series of looks at her, double teams, fronts, etc. at AB and kept her out of the game. Sandy Brondello attributed their success to the assertiveness and hard work of Jones as key to executing the game plan.

Foul trouble has often gotten in the way of her dominance and let to bouts of frustration and overthinking. I asked JJ about how that early success leads into setting the tempo for the rest of the game:

“Any time you can see the ball go in the hoop or get stops, it just kind of helps the momentum. It really does help a lot throughout the entirety of the game,” said Jones. “So just coming in with that mindset and having the confidence and falling back on the work that I’ve done, I think it really does help a lot to start the game good.”

Having Jones continue to stack good days together will be critical for the Liberty as they proceed through the second half.

A lot of times, the team builds big leads, then it starts to trickle away. Some of it comes from naturally taking your foot off the gas in the midst of a game. But a big issue for the Liberty has been the struggles of the bench. That wasn’t the case Sunday as the reserves picked up where the starters left off and made some great plays of their own

The bench outscored Indiana 29-26 and ensured that the large lead held up throughout the afternoon. Last time out, the Fever made a big run and gradually erased the Liberty’s big lead. Geoff Magliocchetti of Sports Illustrated: All Knicks asked what was different between playing with a big lead compared to last matchup:

“It was completely different. We were in control from the tip and that’s something that we haven’t been able to say that we’ve been able to do for 40 minutes is keep the lead, and it’s something that we’ve really tried to hone in on during the second half of the season,” said Brondello post-game.

“Punching first and continuing to take their punches, but maintain our lead and our bench helped a lot with that because we were able to get so many different rotations in. With Jocelyn [Willoughby], [Kayla Thornton], [Ephiphanny Prince] Marine [Johannes] coming off the bench, Nyara [Sabally] was able to get in and play big minutes. It’s contagious when the starting five’s able to come out and do that from the start. The bench comes in with that same momentum and so it was nice to see all players that played today do that.”

With a jam-packed schedule coming up mixed in with a lot of travel, having the bench playing well and sharing the workload with the starters will make life easier for everybody on the team.

A family affair

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Sunday was Homecoming Day at Barclays Center, and Betnijah Laney came in rocking the jersey of her mom and basketball legend, Yolanda Laney.

Her niece, JJ, was in the house and got to watch her aunt have her highest scoring game since the 2021 playoffs. Laney set the tone early in that record-breaking first quarter by going 5-of-5 from the field and relentlessly attacking the basket.

Laney led all players in scoring with 22 points on 9-of-13 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Alford Corriette of Her Hoop Stats noted that she’s had a lot of success attacking the paint in the past two games, and she noted that it’s a result of reading what the defense is giving and adjusting to teams closing out to her more from three point range. Bee is shooting a career best 40.5 percent from three point range this season, and her ability to score from all three levels will go a long way as the Liberty look to maintain their place near the top of the league.

The Liberty are a team that moves incredibly well off the ball, and Laney’s timely cut on the receiving end of this Frisbee pass from Ionescu was one of many top tier highlights on the day:

Playing well is always what you want to do, and when you get to put on a special performance in front of loved ones, the victory is even sweeter.

The Magic is back

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Our own Lucas Kaplan recently noted that a lot of Marine Johannes’ shot attempts are difficult ones. And when you’re in a rut, missing shots tends to take your confidence away. The Liberty have worked to uplift MJ during her recent slump, and she’s started to snap out of her funk. Johannes scored 12 points off the bench and went 4-of-7 from downtown. Her four threes were the most she’s made in a game since June 23rd against Atlanta. When Johannes is locked in, she makes the most audacious threes you’ve ever seen

Johannes looked like her self out there today, and Jackie Powell of The Next asked what led to that:

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to stop overthinking like I said earlier. I know everyone trusts me. I just have to find a way to have fun again and don’t think [too much].”

Jones noted that sometimes she overthinks as well, and it’s something that we all go through. You want to do the best you can every time you attempt something, and when you think about it too much, you wind up adding more pressure on yourself and struggling as a result. When you’re loose, at ease, and have the support of your friends, it makes a hard job a lot easier. And when you get to have fun and put on a show in front of the hometown crowd, it makes

JoJo also chipped in with a season high three steals, one game after her career high of six rebounds. I asked MJ about the importance of contributing in areas other than scoring:

“I think it’s why I’m so focused on the last two games. I’m not asking to score 20 points. I’m just here to help the team as much as I can. And I think I can help the team [in a lot of ways]. Sometimes it’s going to be assists. Sometimes it’s going to be rebounding. I’m just here to help the team and I’m open to everything. When Sandy will ask me something, I will try my best to do it.”

As long as you try your best, you can live with whatever comes your way.

Next up

Chicago Sky v Seattle Storm Photo by Maddy Grassy/NBAE via Getty Images

The homestand continues for the Liberty as they’ll host the Seattle Storm on Tuesday night. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET at the ‘clays. A crowd of 7,371, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, was on hand Sunday.