Not a lot of time to recover, eh? The New York Liberty are fresh off competing in what amounted to the WNBA’s mid-season showcase, not only defeating the Las Vegas Aces in the 2023 Commissioner’s Cup to bring home the Liberty franchise’s first piece of hardware, but then losing to the Las Vegas Aces (in a normal regular-season game) in the only contest on the WNBA calendar on Thursday. Almost like the league’s schedule-makers had some foresight!
As if the Thursday loss didn’t damper Tuesday’s celebratory mood enough, Friday night brings an entirely different challenge for the Liberty. They’ll head to Phoenix to face the Mercury on a cross-city back-to-back, though their flight from Vegas to Phoenix was chartered as they were technically leaving the site of the Commissioner’s Cup. In any case, fun’s over. Time to work once more.
Where to follow the game
Friday night, so you know what that means! The game will be exclusively held on ION Television, and we’ve got another late one, with tip-off scheduled for 10:00 p.m. ET.
As of Friday morning, the Liberty’s injury report is clear, but considering their starters played huge minutes in Vegas on Thursday, including 39 for Breanna Stewart, we’ll keep on eye on that.
The hosting Mercury will be extremely thin at center, not only without many-time All-Star Brittney Griner, but also Megan Gustafson; both are out due to health and safety protocols. Guards Shey Peddy (concussion protocol) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (a pregnancy-related fiasco with the organization) also are listed as out. Alexa Philippou of ESPN reports that Phoenix has signed Liz Dixon to a hardship contract, reaching nine active players for the game.
The Liberty have defeated their Mercury in each of their first two matchups this season, though both were in New York. The first one wasn’t too close at 89-71, but by the second matchup, Phoenix had fired former Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard, who started the season 2-10. Her replacement, Nikki Blue, led the Mercury into Barclays Center for that second matchup and almost pulled out a wild victory, ultimately losing 99-95, but putting a real scare into the Liberty.
Under Blue, the Mercury are a modest 7-11, even 6-7 in their last 13 games. Their current injury report will take some of their bite away, sure, but despite an overall 9-21 record, the Liberty should not be expecting to clown around and come out with a victory in Phoenix. Despite their slow start to the season, the Mercury are just three games out of a playoff spot.
Should the Liberty’s injury report remain clean, Commissioner’s Cup MVP Jonquel Jones could be in for a field day against the depleted Phoenix frontline, as could Breanna Stewart. But New York’s legs will certainly be heavy — no matter how effective their all-world frontcourt is on Friday, expect to see heavy minutes for the reserves, the likes of Marine Johannès, Stefanie Dolson, Nyara Sabally, and Jocelyn Willoughby.
With the Liberty now four games behind the Aces for the W’s one-seed, their focus now turns to the threat over their shoulder, the Connecticut Sun, who trail the sea foam by just two games in the loss column. New York can hardly afford to take any games off down the stretch of August. On Friday night in Phoenix, the Liberty may be battling themselves as much as their opponent.
From the Vault
That wild 99-95 win for the Liberty over the Mercury earlier this season? I forgot to mention it featured one of the greatest individual performances in WNBA regular-season history from who else but Breanna Stewart, 43/12/6/2/1. Enjoy!
More reading: 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