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Liberty start strong and hold on to beat Sparks in LA

New York Liberty v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Sometimes, you just gotta push through. When you’re feeling tired or not at full strength, it’s easy to sag your shoulders and give up. However, if you can muster up all the remaining strength you have, you can make it to the finish line. And sometimes, you can surprise yourself while you do it.

The New York Liberty have ben on the clock a lot recently. They had a four-game schedule last week, and a back-to-back Thursday and Friday night. They had to fly west to begin a three-game road trip before returning home this week to face the Las Vegas Aces next Sunday, arguably the biggest game of the year. They’re in Los Angeles for a few days, and they got the trip started with a 87-79 victory.

Ball movement is the name of the game for the Liberty. They’re hard enough to handle on a regular day, and when the ball is zipping around the court, they become impossible to handle.

On the afternoon, the Liberty piled up 26 assists. They’re the league’s best passing team by a mile, and made some more fun history today. For as cool as that was, that wasn’t the most impressive aspect of this game.

After the game was tied at two, the Liberty went on a 19-0 run. They found their groove while making sure the Sparks got absolutely nothing on offense. The Liberty forced LA into tough midrange jumpers and when they did get into the paint, the dynamic duo of Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart were waiting for them

Stewart spoke about that overwhelming run and said:

After that initial burst, the Sparks got back into the game and cut the Liberty lead down to nine points early in the second quarter. However, Sandy Brondello’s club shrugged it off and quickly reasserted their dominance. New York was able to build the lead up to as big as 27 points. The all around excellence of Breanna Stewart was a big part of that. The MVP contender had it firing on all cylinders as her 27 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal wowed the Los Angeles crowd. Even when the Sparks played picture perfect defense, it didn’t matter

Two things came into play down the stretch: the Liberty tend to ease off the gas when up big, and Curt Miller teams never quit. Thanks to the persistence of Dearica Hamby and Jordin Canada, the Sparks cut the Liberty down to only seven points with under two minutes. Their 15-0 fourth quarter run had the LA crowd rocking and hoping their team could pull off a legendary comeback. The Liberty had been resting most of the starters, but there was a game to close, and Sabrina Ionescu ended the run and the Sparks’ chance at history

Final score: Liberty 87, Sparks 79. New York improved to 19-6, second best record in the WNBA. Sandy Brondello acknowledged that the fourth quarter is a bit of an Achilles heel for her club and that they wanted to clean up the turnovers when they play again on Tuesday night. However, a game like this showed the Liberty are tough to beat and are gaining more chemistry by the day.

Standing tall

New York Liberty v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Jonquel Jones has been the biggest story surrounding the Liberty after the All Star break. In all but one game, JJ has grabbed 10+ rebounds and owned the interior. At one point deep in the second half, she had more rebounds by herself than the Sparks did as a team combined. Jones was a two-way force as her 13 points, ten rebounds, three assists, and one block led the way. When Jones gets the ball deep in the low post, it’s game over...

We also got to see JJ’s versatility as she led the break a few times and made this wonderful bounce pass to Betnijah Laney for the transition layup...

Jones got the postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, and it was well deserved. When JJ is playing like this, the Liberty become even more difficult to handle. As we move into August and beyond, her presence will allow New York to climb higher heights.

Light show

New York Liberty v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The bench has been a point of concern for the Liberty throughout this WNBA season. The starters have carried a lot of the load and had to play a lot of minutes along the way. Marine Johannes has had an up and down season as she adjusts to her new teammates. After a poor spot start on Friday against the Minnesota Lynx, she slid back to her natural role coming off the bench and put on a show. She made five three pointers and was one away from tying her career high. When the Liberty attack the paint, it opens up the three point line and gets them wide open shots. MJ was more than willing to cash in on those opportunities

In post, she admitted she and the bench have to stop overthinking and just hoop. It’s a natural thing to put extra pressure on yourself to make special plays every time you play. With the Liberty off to the best start in franchise history, the pressure is continuing to grow by the day. And with that pressure comes a feeling you’ve got to be perfect every time out. When you overthink, you start second guessing yourself and make mistakes you normally wouldn’t. Like Stewart, when Johannes is on, it’s fun to play along side and fun to watch. Work is always stressful. If you remember to have fun every time you show up, it makes it a lot easier to get through.

Next up

Indiana Fever v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

We do it again in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Tip after 10:00 p.m. ET.