Wow! The New York Liberty faced the Las Vegas Aces in one of the most anticipated games of the WNBA season thus far. New York made a statement and then some when they beat the Aces by 38 points on Sunday afternoon. For more on that game, check out the latest episode of Gotta Get Up! with Erica Ayala and I:
The opponent tonight is hoping to maintain their playoff spot. The Chicago Sky currently sit in eighth place and have a 1.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Sparks. Chicago didn’t help their cause by losing to the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night.
Where to follow the game
ION on TV. Tip after 8 PM.
Per Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr, there’s no timetable on Han Xu returning to the team following the completion of the FISU Games. Stefanie Dolson is back after being out due to an ankle injury.
Rebekah Gardner is out for the season with a foot injury. Isabelle Harrison is out for the season with a knee injury. Li Yeuru is not with the team this season. Ruthy Hebard is back after serving a one game suspension for leaving the bench during Odyssey Sims and Dana Evans’ scuffle on Sunday.
While most of us were asleep, the Liberty punched their ticket to the playoffs! With losses by the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx, the Libs secured their third straight trip to the big dance under owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai and GM Jonathan Kolb. For Sandy Brondello in particular, this is big. It is her 11th straight trip to the playoffs. The journey is far from over, but this is still a nice accomplishment along the way.
Chicago underwent a major change this summer. James Wade abruptly resigned as Head Coach and General Manager to take a job in the NBA as an assistant head coach for the Toronto Raptors. Following his departure, he spoke about the move with Annie Costabile of the Chicago Sun Times:
“It wasn’t about money. It was an opportunity to coach on a level where I can further myself as a coach. At the same time, I can still be an advocate for the women’s game.”
The Sky are the only team left in the W that has a dual coach/GM. As they enter into a critical offseason, they’ve got to make sure the organization is in a good place to be a destination for players to come to.
For the Liberty, ball movement will continue to be the name of the game. They lead the WNBA in assists and were able to use a perfect blend of off ball movement and timely screens to take it to the Aces. Courtney Vandersloot has kept the offense humming and move into second place on the all time assist list on Sunday afternoon. Marina Mabrey figures to get the assignment of defending Sloot. Mabrey has had a decent season for the Sky, but the expectations have been high after she was acquired in the winter in a big four team trade.
How the Liberty defend Kahleah Coper will tell the story of this contest. In the last matchup, Copper went supernova after halftime and lit the Liberty on fire as the Sky stormed back from a 19 point deficit. Copper is incredibly quick off the dribble and when she gets that first step on you, game over. Betnijah Laney had success guarding her fellow Rutgers alum in the first meeting and will try to do it again tonight. Laney was able to make things tough on Aces star Chelsea Gray and picked her up full court practically every time down. The team’s defense is a lot better than what the Sky saw last time, so we’ll see how the team guards Copper.
The Sky have been one of the weaker rebounding teams in the league, and they’ll be dealing with one of the league’s best. The Liberty have been machines on the glass since the All Star break, and that success has been powered by Jonquel Jones. JJ has deterred all comers at the rim, switched out onto guards, dominated the boards, etc. She’s done everything at an incredibly high level and has Liberty fans excited for what’s next. Having Dolson back gives the Liberty even more size to work with and they’ll look to keep Elizabeth Williams and Sika Kone off the glass. If they can, they’ll be able to get out in transition and get easy baskets.
If the game is close late, look for Courtney Williams to take over. Williams scored ten points in the fourth quarter the last time these teams played and hit a bevy of crucial jumpers. She’s also fourth in the W in assists and can make defenses pay if they place too much attention on her. Sabrina Ionescu can make things happen in the clutch and can stretch the defense to its absolute limit every time she’s on the court. She struggled in the two games vs. the Sky, but has been on an absolute tear over the past month, as our pal Daniel Mataya pointed out on Twitter:
I’m not sure it’s being talked about enough, maybe it is, but Sabrina Ionescu’s uptick in production over the last month has been amazing.— Dano Mataya (@drmataya) August 7, 2023
Not to mention with 94 threes made in 26 games, she’s on pace to shatter the record for most 3s in a season (121) at a 44.8% clip.#WNBA pic.twitter.com/Izf2PjAFGl
Dial 3 for Sabrina!
Player to watch: Alanna Smith
Smith has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the W this season. She’s taken on a larger role in her first season with the Sky, and has career highs across the board. She’s also tied for sixth in the WNBA in blocks and is a solid interior defender
Smith also continues in the fine tradition of Australian basketball players succeeding in the WNBA:
As the Sky continue to build for the future, Smith promises to be a big part of it.
Breanna Stewart will look to keep the party rocking tonight. It was another good day at the office for Stew York as she had 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks. In a hilarious bit, Stewie outscored the Aces as a team 18-17 after halftime. Although the Sky have had success stopping teams inside the restricted area, they allow the most shots inside that area in the league. That’s a bad mix against a Liberty team that has so many ways to hurt defenses. If you help too much on drives, they’ll light you up from downtown. Let their post players go one-on-one, and they’re gonna cut you up. Decisions, decisions.
From the Vault
It’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop music, and the ‘clays has us covered all night long. In pregame, Brooklyn’s very own Breezy Lyn will perform in the plaza
Another Brooklyn hero, MC Lyte, will perform during halftime and postgame
And joining Lyte in postgame will be the excellent Rapsody! It’s always a good time to bump a great track off of Laila’s Wisdom
More reading: Chicago Sun Times, Swish Appeal, The Strickland, The Local W, New York Daily News, New York Post, The Athletic. Fansided, Just Women’s Sports, SI All Knicks, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats, CBS Sports, and The Next