When you get a lead, you never want to become complacent. It’s natural to ease off the pedal a bit when you’ve been doing a great job. You’ve done well, are way ahead of where you expected to be, and might slow down some. However, if you continue to go at full speed, you can cruise to the finish line and look back at a job well done.
The New York Liberty were a bit shorthanded coming into Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Lynx. Marine Johannes had her left foot stepped on during Thursday night’s win against the Connecticut Sun. MJ was questionable leading up to this contest, but the team held her out as a precautionary measure. As it turns out, when you have the MVP, you can survive the loss of one of your key players.
Breanna Stewart struggled in the first three quarters of the last game vs. Connecticut. However, Stew York found the rhythm late and carried it into overtime. Stewie kept it going tonight and put on a masterclass in Minneapolis. On the night, Stewart had 38 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and zero turnovers. She was aggressive in finding her shot early on and scored every which way imaginable
In postgame, Stewart cited the ball movement and great off ball screens set by her teammates as keys to her success. When a superstar is dialed in early, they become almost impossible to stop. Lynx guard Aerial Powers spoke about the challenge in guarding Stewart postgame and said:
“She’s a really good player. A great player. I think great players when they’re in rhythm, it’s really hard to stop that. You have to not let them get in their zone. And I feel like she got in her zone really quickly. When a player like that gets in her zone, it’s really hard to stop them.”
Stewart only played 26 minutes, her lowest total in a month as the Liberty cruised to a dominant 111-76 win on Saturday. The Liberty ended their season-long six-game road trip with a 5-1 record and won the Commissioner’s Cup along the way. Not bad.
Aside from Stewart, the rest of the offense was also dialed in. They committed a season low six turnovers and had their second highest scoring total in franchise history with 111 points. They were able to leverage their success driving to the basket and in the paint to get easy looks on the perimeter and cashed in repeatedly from downtown throughout the night:
Betnijah Laney, Courtney Vandersloot, and Sabrina Ionescu each scored in double digits and were able to take advantage of the Lynx throughout the night. With a victory like this, it allowed Sandy Brondello to manage everyone’s minutes and nobody on the team wound up playing over 26 minutes on the evening. In a longer regular season and what promises to be an intense playoffs, getting as much rest as you can matters when you’re chasing the biggest prize in the game. Nights like this go a long way in getting you to your final destination.
Dialed in defense
For as dominant as the offense was, the defense deserves special mention as well. They held the Lynx to 43/38/86 shooting splits and scored 25 points off of their 14 turnovers. Beyond that, the activity level was something to behold. The Liberty have gotten better at switching on defense throughout the season as their combination of length and quickness has helped them climb all the way up to third on the WNBA defensive rating leaderboard. I thought these two possessions in the second quarter exemplified their commitment to defense:
In postgame, Sandy Brondello highlighted the activity, positioning, effort, and aggressiveness of the club on that end that set the tempo for this contest. She also praised Jocelyn Willoughby’s efforts on defense throughout the night and praised the bench’s preparedness on the night. As the Liberty continue getting better, that connectivity and effort on defense from all the players on the team will keep them in the winner’s circle.
It’s been a year of transition for Han Xu. Last year, she took the league by storm with her play off the bench for the Liberty as they made the playoffs. This season, the talent in the room jumped exponentially, and that meant someone was going to have to lose minutes. When Han did get on the court earlier in the season, she sped herself up and struggled when she got on the court. She’s been away due to Chinese national team obligations and was nursing an injury throughout the year, so tonight was her first appearance in a game since June 11 vs. the Dallas Wings. In her 10 minutes of action, Han was excellent as she scored six points and grabbed two rebounds. She looked way more comfortable in the offense and got to where she wanted to go on the court
Jackie Powell of The Next asked Brondello about the play of her young center, and she said:
In Han Xu's 10 minutes of play, she looked a lot more comfortable and poised compared to her garbage time minutes earlier this year. I asked Brondello what she thought of Han's minutes and here's what she said:— Jackie Powell (she/her) (@ClassicJpow) August 27, 2023
Note: It was hard to hear on my recording what she said after super. pic.twitter.com/JoyhBBVgKg
It’s tough for young players to find that rhythm, and it’s probably even more difficult when you’re on a young player on a team with championship expectations. Like the rest of the Liberty bench, Han is prepared when her number is called and as she continues to get acclimated with the new Liberty attack, she’ll be able to find her way.
Heading home! The Las Vegas Aces will be meeting the Liberty in Brooklyn for another big time showdown. Tip off at 7:00 p.m. ET Monday at the 'clays.
- Box Score: New York Liberty 111, Minnesota Lynx 76 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: New York Liberty 111, Minnesota Lynx 76 (Video) - WNBA
- Stewart scores 38 points in 3 quarters, Liberty top Lynx 111-76. Vandersloot reaches 4,000 points - AP
- Breanna Stewart’s stellar performance in win over Lynx continues to tighten 2023 WNBA MVP race - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News
- New York Liberty run around and shoot over Minnesota Lynx in 111-76 win - Mike Cook - St. Paul Pioneer-Press