When you’re on a long road trip, it’s natural to sometimes lose focus. Going from the East Coast, to down South, to the Mountain West, and then all the way up to the Pacific Northwest is a heck of a trek. Trips like these test your mettle, togetherness, and level of preparation and execution. So when you come away with a victory after all the travel, it feels extra special.
On Sunday evening, the New York Liberty returned to action. We last saw them on Thursday as they took a tough loss against the Las Vegas Aces. With the sting of a tough loss and this being the last game of a week long road trip, the Liberty wanted to end this week on a high note. It took some doing, but they were able to close out the trip in style with an 81-66 wire-to-wire victory over the Seattle Storm.
The Liberty had control of this game from the opening tip as Breanna Stewart let folks know this was going to be a much different game than last Thursday
Stewie had it going as she scored the same amount of points in the first quarter (14) as the Storm did combined. Stewart was able to fill up the stat sheet once again as she finished the evening with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals, and one block. In postgame, Stewart said she felt more comfortable in her second game in her home away from home compared to her first homecoming in May.
Not to be outdone, Courtney Vandersloot was just as fantastic in her return to the Pacific Northwest. The General had everything humming for the Liberty, as her 18 points, 13 assists, five rebounds, four steals, and two blocks kept the party going for New York. The Liberty snatched a season high 16 steals and forced the Storm into a season high 20 turnovers. Stewart spoke about the defensive excellence and said:
Breanna Stewart on team's season-high 16 steals: "Defensive awareness. Understanding where we are on the floor, who we’re guarding. Some of it is making really good plays." She guessed Sloot must've had six steals, with all her effort defensively. @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) July 3, 2023
In forcing those turnovers, the Liberty were able to control the tempo of the game, keep the Storm off balance, and get some easy buckets for themselves:
New York won the transition battle, rebounding battle, and outscored the Storm in the paint 42-28. Those have been keys the coaching staff have emphasized throughout the season and winning all three areas is a great harbinger of success. In winning the paint, they were also to thwart most of the Storm’s shots at the rim on the night
Jonquel Jones has continued to get comfortable and her ability to protect the rim will be critical for the Liberty as we move into the latter portions of the season.
Stepping it up
Thursday night was a rough one for Sabrina Ionescu. The Liberty lost and the Aces targeted her repeatedly on defense. Her struggles on that side of the ball highlighted a weakness that might prove fatal to the Liberty come title time. Tonight was much better for Sab as she finished the evening with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals. As the Storm tried to mount a fourth quarter comeback, Ionescu scored five fourth quarter points that kept the Storm and the raucous Climate Pledge Arena crowd at bay:
For as much as we talk about her offense, Ionescu’s ability to play solid team defense will be essential if the Liberty want to make it to the top of the mountain. Sandy Brondello was asked about Sab’s defense and said:
“I think Sabrina’s gonna keep growing in that area, but she’s committed to growing. We’re just trying to show her all areas, the one percenters of positioning, hand pressure, and obviously knowing the scout. So credit to her, she really worked her butt off tonight and had a really good defensive game for us.”
Sab got matched up on Jewell Loyd on a few occasions and held her own a fair bit:
Opponents will continue to hunt Ionescu, but she’s hyper competitive and someone that’s always ready to take on new challenges. As she continues to build her defensive skills, the confidence and support from her teammates and coaching staff will go a long way.
With the departure of Stewart, retirement of Sue Bird, and delayed arrival of Gabby Williams, Jewell Loyd has had to carry everything on her shoulders. She’s been more than up to the challenge and she is the leading scorer in the WNBA this season. In the first half, the Liberty threw a bevy of defenders at her to make things tough. You can only keep a scoring machine down for so long, and after intermission, Loyd turned up. She scored 19 of her game high 27 points after intermission and went to work against any defender she saw in front of her
Stewie spoke about her friend and former teammate in postgame and said:
“Jewell’s playing really, really, really well. Nothing that I don’t think anyone knew, but she’s making tough shots and she’s continuing to represent Seattle. It’s weird playing against her, but I’m really happy to see her playing well.”
And before the night ended, Loyd added one more highlight to her All Star season:
As seen on SportsCenter Top 10!— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) July 3, 2023
Gold Mamba with the MONSTER block pic.twitter.com/fsUeDyJTj6
She’s definitely leaving here with something.
The Liberty get some days off for the Fourth of July and to travel back home. They’ll take on the Phoenix Mercury at the ‘clays on Wednesday night. Tip at 7:00 p.m. ET.