Off to a good start. The New York Liberty opened up the WNBA playoffs against the Washington Mystics and were in a tight affair for much of the evening. However, NY was able to pull away late and came away with a 90-75 victory in front of a raucous Barclays Center crowd on Friday night.
For a bit more on game one, check out my live guest appearance on the Gotta Get Up podcast with Erica Ayala!
Where to follow the game
ESPN is the place to be. Tip after 7 PM.
Han Xu has overseas commitments and is not with the team. Sandy Brondello mentioned Courtney Vandersloot tweaked her ankle in practice on Monday, but she’s fine and not on the injury report.
Shakira Austin is seeing another hip specialist, but will miss this contest tonight.
In postgame on Friday, Breanna Stewart mentioned that the Liberty wanted to crowd Elena Delle Donne’s space and try to prevent her from going to her left. Jonquel Jones also cited the importance of throwing different looks at EDD and noted her length and athleticism helped in defending the Mystics All Star.
EDD only took three field goal attempts with just one free throw attempted after half. Look for the Mystics to try and find more ways to get their star the ball in advantageous positions and with enough space to operate.
Jones proved to be a difficult puzzle for the Mystics. Her 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks helped the team establish itself. In the leadup to the game, she mentioned the Mystics physicality as something the team had to prepare for. Without Austin, the Mystics turned to Myisha Hines-Allen. MHA scored a playoff career high 21 points on 8-13 from the field and battled with Jones on the interior. The Mystics will also try to bring the physicality to JJ, as Queen Egbo noted:
Asked Queen Egbo about limiting Jonquel Jones on the boards: Definitely be physical with her.— Kareem Copeland (@kareemcopeland) September 18, 2023
"She doesn't like contact, even though she does initiate it."
Added JJ is strong and it takes multiple bodies to help rebound or box out. Have to be mindful and not let her sneak in.
The physicality always ratchets up in the playoffs, and tonight will be no exception.
For Stewart, her Mystics struggles continued. She only went 3-of-16 from the field in 37 minutes, but filled up the stat sheet with eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal. Stewie does everything on the court so even on nights when her shot isn’t there, she’s able to still make major plays. NetsDaily’s Lucas Kaplan asked Stewie how she and the team balances attacking switches:
“I think that knowing that there’s a switch and there’s a guard on me, that’s gonna be one of the top priorities because also it’s gonna create rotations and make people open and especially when I’m at the free throw line or the nail, that’s the best place to be because of the defensive three seconds and using my height and ability to take my time to get whatever I want.”
Look for the Liberty to try and get Stewart on the move a bit more so she can get some easier attempts.
The Liberty bench only scored five points and played a combined 19 minutes, but they brought the energy needed to keep the team afloat. Kayla Thornton had two blocks and Stefanie Dolson had an awesome two way sequence:
If Stefanie Dolson is gonna play like this, the Liberty's bench looks pretty sturdy: pic.twitter.com/vrlrE34fPN— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) September 16, 2023
The starters will handle the bulk of the work, but when you have reserves ready to contribute at a moment’s notice, it gives a team that much more flexibility.
Brittney Sykes has been the team MVP this season, and they’re going to need a huge game from her tonight if they want to bring this series back to DC. Sykes scored 18 points and battled all night long. Her energy and hustle is contagious and look for her to be even more aggressive tonight. She took turns guarding each of the Liberty’s perimeter stars and played a team high 36 minutes. The Mystics are going to need all that and then some if they want to force a game three back in DC.
Betnijah Laney kept the Liberty afloat when things were rocky in the first half. Laney scored 14 of her 22 points in the first half as she kept the team in it after the first quarter Mystics barrage. Laney does everything for this team, and her energy inspires her teammates to step up (especially on defense) and have her back. Laney can finish at the rim, and when the ball is zipping from side to side, she can make you pay too
That’s how you do it.
Player to watch: Natasha Cloud
You never want to get hit with a haymaker. Your balance isn’t there, you’re doing your best to stay in the fight, and then you get a heavy hit. As Eric Thibault noted, giving up transition threes in the ‘clays is an invitation for disaster...
You can’t afford to go under on screens or have a momentary lapse when Sabrina Ionescu. If you do, she’s more than willing to hit a building shaking three. Ionescu had the city on tilt with her 29 points and seven made 3-pointers. You know who else noted the Mystics defense needs to be better?
Natasha Cloud said she's guarding Sabrina Ionescu for 40 minutes tomorrow. Said NY was actively trying to get her to switch, and said that's not happening. Called the Mystics' Game 1 defense "lazy" and the tape was "humbling"— Kareem Copeland (@kareemcopeland) September 18, 2023
"They have a rude awakening for tomorrow." #WNBA
Assuming Cloud does take the Ionescu assignment all game long, it’ll give Ariel Atkins more energy on the offensive side of the ball. Ionescu got the assignment of guarding Atkins most of game one, and she and the team worked hard to hold the former All Star and Olympic Gold Medalist to 6-of-15 shooting in 29 minutes. Thibault noted that everyone’s got the clear to play heavy minutes, so look for Atkins to get more run out there. The best way to slow down a great offensive player is to make them work extra hard on defense, so be on the lookout for Washington trying to feature Atkins more and to make Ionescu work even harder on defense.
As for Cloud, she’s at her best when she’s attacking off the dribble and getting to the rim. After making her first shot (a pull up midrange jumper), she missed her last seven from the field, including going 0-3 from three point range.
Might be as simple Natasha Cloud needing to make some threes, cause the Liberty have been disrespectful helping off her in the gaps: pic.twitter.com/j0FnYJN343— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) September 16, 2023
As a team, Washington only went 5-22 from three point range. It’s tough to win when that happens and for a Mystics team that has less interior presence with Austin’s absence, they’re going to need to get hot from deep. Their season depends on it.
From the Vault
At halftime, Tony Sunshine will perform as the team celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month!
And in sad news, Irish Grinstead of 702 passed away over the weekend at the age of 43. 702 put out a lot of bangers, so let’s play two of them before we go
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
- Liberty aim to close out Mystics in front of home crowd in Game 2 - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Sabrina Ionescu on upcoming Game 2 vs. Mystics: ‘We’ve got to finish it’ - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News
- It’s a best-of-three, but Liberty want Tuesday’s playoff game to be 2 of 2 - Brian Heyman - Newsday