Back on the good foot. The New York Liberty were looking to get back in the winner’s circle on Sunday night against the Seattle Storm. Seattle put up a good fight, but NY was too much to handle as they went on to win 81-66. The W improved their record to 11-4 on the WNBA season. To catch you up on all things Liberty, listen to Erica Ayala of Black Rosie Media and I discuss the team and WNBA at large on the latest edition of the Gotta Get Up! podcast:
The opponent tonight will be the Phoenix Mercury. It’s been a tough year for the Mercury, but they’re doing their best to hang in. They’ve been off since Saturday after losing at home to the Minnesota Lynx. The Mercury are now 3-12 on the season.
Where to follow the game
YES Network is the place to be. Twitter is as well, but good luck counting on that God forsaken app to work. Tip after 7:00 p.m.
No Stef Dolson. Han Xu has completed her duties at the Asia Cup and was named to the All Asia Cup team. She's just getting back from Australia, so she'll get some rest before she suits back up.
Skylar Diggins-Smith is out on maternity leave. Sophie Cunningham had been in concussion protocol, but will make her return tonight.
The Liberty won the first meeting in June.
The Mercury are looking different from when we last saw them. O June 25, the team fired Vanessa Nygaard after a 2-10 start to the season. At the time of her firing, the Mercury had lost five straight games, the last two by 20+ points. From the outside looking in, it appeared that Nygaard lost the team, and in basketball, once you lose the locker room, you never get them back. Nikki Blue is the new coach in charge, and spoke about her journey to the head coaching position:
“It means everything to me. Being an Arizonian now, I guess, the growth that you can experience in the city – me coming in at (Grand Canyon University) and doing a good job there. … (Arizona State) and do a great job there. And then come in and being a professional coach, it just has been amazing. Given me and my family the opportunity to be here for the past five and a half, six years. And for this to become our community. And with the support that I’ve had at all three places has been amazing.”
It’s great to see a coach work their way up the ladder and all the way up to the big chair. A strong finish down the stretch will help Blue become the permanent coach for the Mercury in 2024 and beyond.
Tuesday was the Fourth of July, and the Liberty marked the occasion by reciting Emma Lazarus' poem, The New Colossus
It’ll be wonderful to see Brittney Griner on the court tonight. BG missed the first matchup with a hip injury, but she’s been back and playing at an All Star level. With the exception of the game in which she left with injury, BG has shot over 53 percent from the field in every game this season. Griner is one of the best post players the game of basketball has ever seen, and she hasn’t missed a beat in her All Star comeback
This is her first game played in Brooklyn since 2021, and the crowd will definitely shower her with the love she deserves. For the Liberty, Jonquel Jones will get the initial assignment of guarding BG. JJ has gotten more comfortable the further she’s gotten away from her foot fracture and has been great on the interior for the Liberty. She’s helped the Liberty clean up their rebounding woes and the team will need a big game out of JJ tonight on both sides of the ball.
One of the big problems for the Mercury has been their turnover woes. The Mercs lead the W in turnover rate, and that spells danger against a Liberty team that is always looking to get out in transition and capitalize on opponent mistakes. Courtney Vandersloot in particular has been a menace in the passing lanes as she averages close to two steals a night. For Sloot and the Libs, look for them to put a lot of pressure on the Mercury and force their ballhandlers into mistakes.
With Cunningham out, an old friend of ours is in the starting five! Michaela Onyenwere has been inserted into the starting five and has done a good job at the small forward position. Mic will need to be able to cash in from deep whenever the Liberty place extra emphasis on the paint. Cunningham is back, but might be on a minutes restriction so look for Onyenwere to get a good amount of playing time.
Onyenwere and Cunningham will likely draw the assignment of guarding Betnijah Laney. Laney has continued her all around excellent play as she’s been able to provide timely scoring and elite defense every night out. Laney has expanded her offensive arsenal by being an elite catch and shoot three point shooter. With all of the attention the other Liberty stars get, Laney is always ready to make the defense pay for its mistakes.
Player to watch: Diana Taurasi
142 points away. Diana Taurasi is the all time leading scorer in the W and 142 points away from 10,000 career points. The only active players close to DT are Candace Parker and DeWanna Bonner. It’s been a tough year for DT as injury kept her out for a week and change. She’s third in the W in three pointers attempted per game, but is shooting a career worst 27. percent from downtown. That said, DT can heat up at a moment’s notice and all it takes is one three to go down for DT to get in a groove. Watch out.
Another UCONN legend will look to put on a show tonight. Breanna Stewart was her usual excellent self on Sunday as her 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals, and block kept the Liberty offense humming along. Even on nights when her shot isn’t falling, Stewart is able to impact the game in a myriad of ways. It’s helped Stewart to be the captain of the All Star team and one of the favorites to win the MVP this season. Stewie was masterful the first time she saw the Mercury, so look for Phoenix to throw a bunch more defenders at her. Stewart’s court vision has been top notch, so her teammates will need to be ready to knock shots down when they’re open.
From the Vault
BG’s finest hour, DT being a clutch time monster, Skylar Diggins-Smith running the show, and Sandy Brondello pushing all the right buttons. What a time for the Mercury