You always want the last day of the year to be quick and easy. You’ve passed all your classes, accomplished the goals you set out to, and want to relax before beginning your new adventure. The last day tends to lead into new adventures, and you want to make sure you’re in a good space before you move up a level.
Coming into Sunday’s regular season finale, the New York Liberty were in a great place. They’ve locked up the two seed behind the Las Vegas Aces, have homecourt advantage for much of the WNBA playoffs which begin Friday in Brooklyn, and have looked amazing since the calendar flipped to August. It’s been a banner season so far and they celebrated that with the 8,306 fans at Barclays Center by raising the Commissioner’s Cup championship banner prior to the start of the game. The team also had legends such as Swin Cash and Teresa Weatherspoon in the house as they honored icons who helped build the franchise.
The team also met a big goal: end the game and regular season fully healthy and feeling good about things heading into the post-season and they did that. The same could be said for their opponent. Washington has battled injuries all year long, but is a proud and resilient group. They’re locked into the seventh seed and the Liberty are locked in to two. They gave the fans a show that served as a perfect lead in to what promises to be an explosive playoffs.
We’ll start at the end. The Liberty had fought back from down ten in the fourth quarter and got it tied up in the final seconds. Breanna Stewart made an All WNBA Defensive Team play against Elena Delle Donne on the Mystics final possession
However, there was just enough time for the Mystics to make one more play...
Final score: Mystics 90, Liberty 88. The loss snapped the Liberty’s eight-game winning streak, which goes down as the second longest in franchise history. In postgame, Breanna Stewart praised the Mystics play design and the lob pass Natasha Cloud made to Sykes.
On the night, Jonquel Jones had 19 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes of action. With Shakira Austin out of action and due to see a hip specialist, the Mystics are thin in the front court and JJ was able to take full advantage of that on the evening:
In post, JJ mentioned that she wanted to build some momentum into the playoffs and get to the rim. Jones has continued to get back to peak form this season and her presence on the inside gives the Liberty a lot of options to work with.
Despite the loss, it was a tremendous day for Liberty fans. Even with the horrible weather in New York City, it was sold out at the Barclays Center and fans got to meet and hang out with the team afterwards. We asked Stew York about the energy the crowd gave them throughout the afternoon, and she said:
“It definitely gives us extra energy knowing that the crowd is behind us, supporting us throughout the entire way, and especially at the end when we need to make big plays and they’re cheering us on. It helps us in a number of ways.”
Playoff basketball in New York City is incredibly special, and it’s going to be exciting to see the crowd bring the noise once these teams lock horns again.
Bee is back
On Saturday, the team announced that Betnijah Laney agreed to a multiyear contract extension to stay with the Liberty.
“I think just as we’ve gone, seeing what it looks like to be professional, to have all the resources that you need. Each year, we’ve just gotten better and better. For my first year, just being on all the teams that I’ve been on, I didn’t think it could get any better. So just, where we’re at now, the way that they can take care of us, the resources that we have for us to be our ultimate best, is second to none.”
Since they assumed ownership of the franchise in 2019, Clara Wu and Joe Tsai have made the Liberty into one of the premier franchises in the WNBA. They’ve put time, effort, and money into the organization and it’s made Liberty games the place to be in Brooklyn. I think back to what Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke, told me last year about the ownership providing the best for the team and ensuring they had access to the best facilities, best services, etc.
Sandy Brondello praised the professionalism of the organization and the ways it takes care of the players and support staff alike. When you create good, positive environments, it makes the job better for everyone. That’s what you like to see.
Back on the road
During the game, Liberty fans on Twitter observed that they didn’t see Han Xu on the bench. In the postgame, the box score noted that Han was not with the team due to an overseas commitment. Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr asked Sandy Brondello about it, and she said:
"It’s something I only found out pregame," Sandy Brondello said, with Han Xu's sudden absence clearly catching her by surprise. "She has to go back to China to start preparing for [a championship in Asia]. Just a miscommunication from the agent, I guess." @Winsidr https://t.co/1LYKHF84QA— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) September 10, 2023
With the rotation as it is, Han probably wasn’t going to play a ton of minutes in the first round as it was. Jackie Powell of The Next reported that Mystics guard Li Meng will be summoned to the Asia Games as well, but with Han being much more integral to the Chinese National Team’s success, she had to go first.
The New York Liberty will return for the WNBA playoffs on Friday night. We’ll see the Mystics again, this time with the stakes a lot higher. Tip after 7:30 at the ‘clays.
- Box Score: Washington Mystics 90, New York Liberty 88 - WNBA
- Game Highlights: Washington Mystics 90, New York Liberty 88 (Video) - WNBA
- Brittney Sykes shot at buzzer lifts Mystics to 90-88 win over Liberty in regular-season finale - Doug Feinberg - AP
- Liberty drop finale at buzzer to Mystics, their playoff opponent - Brian Heyman - Newsday
- Mystics edge out Liberty with Brittney Sykes’ buzzer-beater in regular season finale - Andrew Crane - New York Post
- Mystics beat the Liberty at the buzzer to lock in a playoff rematch - Kareem Copeland - Washington Post