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New York Liberty defeat Chicago Sky, 89-73, in smooth Friday night win

Despite a four-day layoff, the Liberty were as sharp as ever, handling the Sky in a wire-to-wire victory for their fifth straight W

Chicago Sky v New York Liberty Jason Sudeikis new york liberty Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Liberty returned to action on Friday night a whole five days after their statement win over the Las Vegas Aces last Sunday, an unambiguous 99-61 win on national television that sent shockwaves throughout the WNBA.

New York is now just three games behind Las Vegas in the standings, and the two giants still have a trio of matchups later this month, including the Commissioner’s Cup on August 15th. The Liberty are, essentially, an entirely new squad this season while the Aces only have one new player in their starting five. Does the W have two superteams after all?

An enticing question for sure, but not one New York could afford to ponder as the Chicago Sky came to town on Friday. The Sky may have entered the contest just 12-16 this season and on the fringes of playoff contention, but were also coming off a stretch in which they scored 104 points in three straight games before a loss on Tuesday. Sure, the Sky are not the Aces, and even the Liberty themselves weren’t brash enough to pretend the energy in the Barclays Center would be the same as it was Sunday, but the Sky were not to be taken lightly.

They proved as much in a wild, back-and-forth opening which saw the Liberty leading 19-14 at the first TV timeout of the first quarter. Neither team had taken a breath to that point, and Marina Mabrey seemed to determine to kill Sabrina Ionescu on every possession, putting up nine quick points:

But, as substitutions entered the game, the sea foam settled down and turned the defense up. New York closed the quarter on a 9-2 run, giving them a 28-16 lead after ten minutes, a run that continued into the second, where Chicago’s offense looked totally dormant. With six minutes to go until halftime, the home team was up 34-20 and threatening to run away with this one.

Chicago’s starters, however, woke up. While none of them finished the half with double-digit points, all of them scored multiple field goals, providing a balanced scoring attack to cut the Liberty lead all the way to three. Mabrey quieted down, but Kaleah Copper hit two treys and Elizabeth Williams worked the post in a diverse scoring attack.

The visitors were even threatening to take the lead prior to a two-way sequence that woke the Barclays Center crowd up in a big way, one that ushered the Liberty to a comfortable 48-40 halftime lead:

Much like their guests, New York featured balanced scoring in the first half; Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu led the way with 12 and 11, respectively, but each starter made at least two field goals.

The third quarter was a water-treading experience, with the Liberty lead stuck between four and 12 points for the period. It was a largely symmetrical game for both squads; there were quite a few turnovers, similar points in the paint, similar rebounding and fouling numbers, but there was one key difference, one that’s decided quite a few contests in favor of New York this season: three-point shooting.

The Libs hovered around fifty percent from deep all night long, while the Sky struggled to match half of that. Chicago’s offensive process, on the whole, was nothing to scoff at despite a strong performance from the Liberty defense. But even when they generated open shots, they were rarely able to cash in, to deliver a truly momentum-changing swish from deep. The Sky generated points in the paint, sure, but it just wasn’t enough.

Ultimately, the dam broke open in the fourth quarter. Stewart went on a personal 5-0 run to open the final frame, pushing the margin to 69-55, and her team never looked back. Thanks to a team-wide barrage, the game was effectively over right at the four-minute mark, when Jonquel Jones hit a transition three to push the coffin closed at 84-63.

Stewart attributed her team’s explosive fourth quarter to “continuing to lock in. Obviously, we’re playing against a really good team, and there were some things in the first half we could have done better. But [we made] sure that especially in the third quarter and really going to the fourth that we made a statement and continued to pick it up a notch.”

Other than 3-point marksmanship, turnovers decided this one, as the Liberty forced 19 turnovers and won the points-off-turnovers battle by a whopping 27-10 score. For the game, every New York starter outside of Courtney Vandersloot finished with double-digits, including a 21/12 double-double for Stewart. Ionescu, in no surprise, hit five triples but also dished out eight assists, frequently handling the ball in pick-and-roll, a trend continuing from the Aces game.

Jones, who Sandy Brondello singled out in pregame as the main reason for her team’s recent excellence, continued her strong play: 18 points (including her 3000th in the W), seven boards, four assists, two blocks, and a whopping plus-minus of +29, anchoring both starter- and bench-heavy lineups:

“She’s just playing so well at both ends of the floor for us, and that’s why we are where we are at the moment,” said Brondello of her starting center. “We’re establishing her down low on offense and she’s going to work.”

Kayla Thornton echoed her coach’s statements when discussing Jones’ recent play, simply saying when she’s “asked about what’s been the difference in the second half of our season, I say, ‘JJ.’”

The Chicago Sky, who finished Friday night shooting 7-24 from deep, were led by Alanna Smith, who scored 19 points on 14 shots. Their other two double-digit scorers were Mabrey, who cooled off quickly to score just 12 points, and Courtney Williams, who finished with an even ten.

Despite a second-half lead that fell to just two possessions, it never felt as if the Liberty were in any real danger in this one. It wasn’t a blowout from beginning to end for New York, but it wasn’t surprising to glance at the box score post-game and see that yes, this was indeed a wire to wire win for the Liberty. Final score: New York 89, Chicago 73.

Strong Bench Play

Sandy Brondello, for the first time since late June, had the services of Stefanie Dolson at her disposal to bring off the bench. Following over six weeks off with an ankle injury, Dolson played 11 minutes against the Sky, and while she did only score one bucket, coming in garbage, she was responsible for a hilarious, typically Dolson sequence in the first half:

“I look forward to, obviously, more on Sunday and to keep building her up. But the most important thing is she feels good, and then it’s just the conditioning, which is going to come,” said Brondello.

Yet, in her return, Dolson was not the x-factor off the bench in Friday’s win. For the first time in some time, Marine Johannés and Kayla Thornton each had productive nights, combining for 13 points on just eight shots, each winning their minutes handily.

It was a positive in particular for Johannés, who has struggled lately, not looking like the electrifying guard she was for New York last season. Tonight, however, she showed glimpses:

Post-game, Brondello said that both of her big-minute bench players “did their job,” but added that she was particularly “complimentary of Marine, just coming in and being aggressive and defensively too, just executing and getting steals.”

The New York bench hasn’t always delivered this season, but Friday night offered a glimpse of what it could be. You could do a lot worse than Dolson, Johannés, and Thornton all at their best, should they get there.

Honoring Hip Hop for Unity Game

Friday night’s contest vs. the Sky also marked the seventh annual Unity Game for the Liberty, an annual event created to to “ignite activism, educate fans, unite the local community, and amplify marginalized voices.”

On a night where Yankee Stadium hosted the Hip Hop 50 concert, a celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the art and culture, the Liberty dedicated the Unity Game to women in hip-hop. Legendary East Flatbush native MC Lyte not only introduced the Liberty starting five, but held halftime and postgame concerts for the Barclays Center faithful, accompanied by Rapsody for her final act.

‘Ted Lasso’ on hand again

With Mikal Bridges in Spain, the Liberty were without one of their celebrity fans, but once again, Jason Sudeikis, aka Ted Lasso, was on hand with his daughters, enjoying the game, embracing both the Liberty players and their fans..

Indeed, Doug Bearak, who spends most of his waking hours at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, had this to say post-game about Sudeikis: “Jason Sudeikis may have stayed by his section post-game for like 15 minutes straight taking pictures with fans. For a celebrity that’s extremely classy. I was shocked! His family didn’t even mind.”

Sudeikis and Bearak were among 8.070 fans at Barclays Center, a little above the team’s average for the season. So was this guy who needs no intro...

As well as some of his friends.

Next Up

The Liberty now embark on a six-game road trip which includes their Commissioner’s Cup final in Las Vegas on Tuesday. First, however, New York will face Aaliyah Boston and the Indiana Fever in Indianapolis on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET.