Big games have a certain feel to it. Possessions becomes more scarce, the game requires even more attention to detail, and every point takes on extra significance. These games are nerve wracking and anxiety inducing, but are a major test of where your team is and how far it can go. And if you manage to survive a game like this, the sky’s the limit.
We’ll start here...
It was a wild, wild journey to make it to that point. So what happened leading up to that point?
For most of the night, the Connecticut Sun were in control of this one. The stakes were high as the Sun were trying to gain ground on the New York Liberty for second place in the WNBA standings. Along with that, CT was trying to avoid going down 3-0 in the season series and thus, losing the tiebreaker. For much of the night, DeWanna Bonner was a one-woman wrecking crew.
Sandy Brondello knows DB real well dating back to their days on the Phoenix Mercury. Due to Brionna Jones’ Achilles injury, Bonner has slid up to the power forward position. It’s been a success as DB was named an All Star and is averaging 18.2 points a game, tenth best in the league. Bonner scored a game high 30 points and stretched the Liberty defense to its absolute limit
Bonner and the Sun were able to jump out to a 20-point lead in the middle of the third quarter. However, the Liberty are familiar with huge deficits against elite teams and got to work. In postgame, Brondello noted the team started to play harder as they fought to get back into it and play New York Liberty basketball. They got it down to a relatively manageable ten points heading into the fourth quarter. Then, it was star time.
The Sun have a bunch of lengthy, super athletic defenders, and it gave Sabrina Ionescu. Sab only went 1-of-8 from the field in the first three quarters and wasn’t able to place her imprint on this one. However, great players don’t let early slumps get in the way when it’s winning time. Ionescu found her shot in the fourth as she scored ten points to help get the Liberty within striking distance. Her last field goal was this bit of magic with Jonquel Jones deep in the fourth
And now, we circle back to the beginning of the end. After Breanna Stewart hit a runner to cut the Sun lead to two, Courtney Vandersloot got a steal and found Ionescu on the wing. Sab launched a three and was fouled by old friend Rebecca Allen. After knocking down the first two, she had a chance to put the Liberty ahead by one and help the team escape with an improbable victory. The sellout Mohegan Sun arena crowd were on their feet, and Ionescu missed her first free throw all month to keep the game tied heading into overtime. Liberty fans know all too well that nothing comes easy, so what’s five more minutes?
Coming into this one, the MVP race was the center of discussion. Alyssa Thomas has been amazing and is one of the favorites to win the award this year. The Sun have begun their campaign for AT as tonight was Alyssa Thomas bobblehead night at the arena. The team also began its media push for AT earlier in the day.
Float like a butterfly, sting like AT.— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) August 24, 2023
Introducing…The Beast Inside. Quiet and reserved off the court, absolutely fearless on it.
The most triple-doubles. The most relied on. The most VALUABLE. #ATforMVP pic.twitter.com/YtV57TFeRK
Thomas delivered for the home team as she scored 22 points, handed out 12 assists, grabbed seven rebounds, and collected three steals. Most amazingly, she played all 45 minutes of this one. Thomas is the figurative and literal engine of this Connecticut franchise, and a game like this speaks to the toughness and determination she plays with every second she’s on the court.
When the game got to overtime, that’s when New York’s MVP went to work. Breanna Stewart had been bothered by foul trouble throughout the night, but started to figure things out in the fourth quarter. She scored eight points as New York went on its run. When overtime began, Stew York set the tone for how things would proceed
On the night, Stewart finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block in 40 minutes. In postgame, we asked Stewie about her approach in the OT session, and she said
Breanna Stewart on her approach in overtime, after struggling with her shot earlier: "Continue to be aggressive. Know that no matter what happened in the first 40 of the game, we still had five left. And knowing that no matter what happened, I still made an impact." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 25, 2023
For Stewart, maintaining that aggressive approach opens up a world of opportunities for her teammates and makes her impossible to defend. She was able to maintain that aggressiveness while also avoiding even more foul trouble as the game got tighter. Being able to play with fouls is a crucial skill and as the Liberty gear up for the postseason, Stewart’s experience and guile will help them on their journey.
The Sun got the Liberty overtime lead down to three points, but clutch time is (still) Ionescu time and this time, she shut the door.
Final score: Liberty 95, Sun 90. At 26-7, the Liberty have a 3.5 game lead on the Sun for the second seed and perhaps most importantly, have clinched the season series.
Big game JJ
Jonquel Jones’ return to dominance has been one of the biggest stories in the WNBA since the All Star break. Since the break, JJ is leading the W in rebounding at 11.3 a night and has punished teams on the interior. She’s looking like her 2021 MVP self, and tonight she got to put on a show in front of her old fans in CT.
The Liberty didn’t do much of anything from deep (8-31 from three point range), so they made sure to feed their star in the low post frequently.
Jones was a force on the interior as her 21 points and 14 rebounds helped the Liberty win the paint battle as well as the rebound battle. Without Bri Jones and Olivia Nelson-Ododa a DNP-Coaches Decision, the Sun are a lot smaller than we’re used to seeing. It was an advantage Brondello and the team took full advantage of the deeper the game progressed
Brondello on playing through Jonquel Jones in the second half: "It was what we needed to do. That was the advantage, that’s how we’re going to exploit them… we made an emphasis, and JJ did the rest. I didn’t play her much in the first half, but she took it on herself." @Winsidr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 25, 2023
Being able to score at all three levels matters a lot against elite teams. If one area of the court isn’t working for you, keep moving the ball around and trusting the process so you can find those good opportunities. The great teams are able to work through those early woes and find the mismatch and make teams pay for it. And with Jones back at her usual star level, the Liberty go from extremely difficult to almost impossible to stop.
The Liberty officially wrap up the road trip on Saturday night in Minnesota against the Lynx. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.
- Box Score: New York Liberty 95, Connecticut Sun 90 (OT) - WNBA
- Game Highlights: New York Liberty 95, Connecticut Sun 90 (Video) - WNBA
- Breanna Stewart sets Liberty scoring record, rallies New York past Connecticut in OT - AP
- Liberty erase ugly start with thrilling OT victory over Connecticut Sun - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News