We’re here! The New York Liberty had an incredible regular season and are hoping to go build on it in the WNBA Playoffs. It's been a magical year for the seafoam and they are looking to create long last memories in the playoffs.
The opponent tonight is one of the toughest, most resilient teams in the league. The Washington Mystics have been hammered by injuries, but they keep getting up and overcoming the odds.
As we roll on, listen to Erica Ayala, Misha Jones, and I talk all things Liberty and Mystics on the latest episode of the Gotta Get Up podcast!
Where to follow the game
ESPN2 is the place to be. Tip off after 7:30 p.m. ET.
Han Xu has Chinese National Team duties so she won’t be here. Everybody else is ready to go.
Shakira Austin is out with a hip injury. Kristi Toliver is out with a torn ACL.
With Austin out, the Mystics are shorthanded in the frontcourt. In the second half of the season, they were last in the league in rebounding. On the other side, the Liberty were second in the league on the glass since the break. A lot of that is due to the all around excellence of Jonquel Jones. JJ has been a beast on the interior and has opened up new avenues for the Liberty. The Mystics play a physical brand of ball, and it was something JJ talked about with Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr at practice on Wednesday:
“They do play very physical, so whether that’s denying guards on the wings, whether that’s getting into our bodies as post players [etc.]. Me and Stewie, not allowing us to just rip and drive or get easy post-ups. I think they do a really good job of making the game tough. And I think the last matchup for us is pretty indicative of the difference between playoff basketball and regular-season basketball. It’s that the physicality is on a different level. And so I think it was a it was a great wake-up call for us.”
Washington will have to count on Myisha Hines-Allen, Tianna Hawkins, and Queen Egbo to battle Jones on the inside. It’s going to take a total team effort and the Mystics will need to bring even more physicality to combat Jones.
On the perimeter, the Mystics are led by a Defensive Player of the year contender. Brittney Sykes has been magnificent all season long and has been a hawk in the passing lanes. She finished the regular season second in the WNBA in steals at two a night and she often guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player. In the regular season matchups, she defended Courtney Vandersloot and chances are she’ll do it again.
Sabrina Ionescu progressively got better the more she played the Mystics. She started to find her shot against this team and would make them pay every time they went under a screen when she had the ball
Sykes and Natasha Cloud will get their turns guarding Ionescu. For Sabrina, she’ll need to have a massive series from deep to draw defenders out to her and free up space in the paint for the Liberty bigs to get to work.
On offense, look for Cloud to relentlessly attack the basket. When she’s getting downhill, she puts enormous amounts of pressure on the defense and can find shooters open when defenses collapse onto her. After Sunday’s game, Sandy Brondello and Kayla Thornton noted that the Liberty didn’t play with their usual level of physicality. Now that the playoffs are here and the games will get tighter, look for the Liberty to bring the energy. And with a sold out Barclays Center ready to cheer them on, it’s going to make for an amazing atmosphere.
New York’s own DPOY candidate will look to put on a show of her own. Betnijah Laney has been marvelous all season and has taken on the challenge of leading an elite New York defense. The Liberty play with a toughness, physicality, and heart that is reminiscent of the best New York and New Jersey pro teams, and Laney is the embodiment of that. She’ll look to keep players like Cloud, Sykes, and Ariel Atkins on the perimeter and out of the lanes.
Jonathan Kolb named AP Executive of the Year
The accolades keep piling up for the Liberty. On Thursday, AP named Jonathan Kolb, the Liberty GM, its executive of the year in the WNBA. Kolb, who’s been at his job for five years now, assembled the Liberty’s super team which so far has filled its promise.
The award was determined by the league’s 12 executives, with individuals not allowed to vote for themselves. ESPN reported Kolb received six first-place votes, with Dallas’ Greg Bibb and Connecticut’s Darius Taylor also receiving multiple first-place votes (two apiece).
The award is yet the latest for the Liberty following its big first season with Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney. Stewart has already been named AP Player of the Year and she and Ionescu were named to the All-WNBA team, Stewart on the first tem, Ionescu on the second. Vandersloot has also been named the WNBA Assists Leader.
Joe Tsai tweeted out his congratulations...
The best in the business. We knew. https://t.co/YTymU9yadj— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) September 14, 2023
“I think this is right on time with our plan that we had in place,” Kolb said of where things stand for the franchise. “It’s not all the time that plans meet the end that you had hoped for, but this one did, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Player to watch: Elena Delle Donne
Injuries suck. If she hadn’t been dealing with injuries for much of the year, Elena Delle Donne would’ve likely secured another 50/40/90 season. As it is, an All Star season where she shoots .485/.393/.938 is pretty darn impressive. The Liberty are well aware of the damage EDD can do, and will look to make things tough on the former MVP. She’s just getting back from injury and had been on a minutes restriction to close out the regular season. It’s a big leap to go from minutes restriction to full throttle, but it’s the playoffs and you gotta do what you gotta do.
Breanna Stewart hasn’t shot well against the Mystics this season, but she’s stepped up in the clutch when her team needs her. Stew York has been amazing for New York and will look to showcase her MVP skills tonight. Courtney Vandersloot mentioned to media that they’re going to try and get Stewart the ball in better positions when the Mystics do switch on defense. Stewart can score over any defense, but if the team can get her easier shots, it’ll make her life easier. In postgame on Sunday, Stewie mentioned she liked the shot attempts she got in the flow of the offense. Chances are, if those opportunities arise again, she’ll have better luck cashing in on them.
From the Vault
At halftime, Maliibu Miitch will be performing for the fans at the ‘clays
and BreezyLYN will hit the stage as well!
More reading: Bullets Forever, 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