Survive and advance. The New York Liberty and Washington Mystics were involved in a battle for the ages at Barclays Center on Tuesday evening. It took overtime, but the Libs were able to outlast the 'stics and move on to the semifinals.
The opponent tonight is one of the WNBA’s best. The Connecticut Sun have been terrific all season long and wound up finishing third in the standings. It took an extra game, but they were able to get by the Minnesota Lynx and move on to this round on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
Where to follow the game
ESPN is the place to be. Brunch and basketball so we getting going after 1:00 p.m. ET. Pour the mimosas.
Han Xu is overseas and not with the team.
Brionna Jones continues to recover from Achilles surgery and is out.
On Friday, Betnijah Laney received a special acknowledgement...
A defensive powerhouse ♀️— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) September 22, 2023
The 1st Lib to receive Second Team honors since 2016. pic.twitter.com/IUpEIgfCsJ
Bee has been integral to the Liberty defense and her ability to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player unlocks a bushel of options for Sandy Brondello’s team. Look for Bee to get the matchup against DeWanna Bonner. Bonner has taken on a bigger role in the Sun offense throughout the season and was critical to them beating the Lynx in game three. For New York, they’ll have to ensure DB
Sabrina Ionescu served as a decoy on Tuesday night as Natasha Cloud devoted her energy to slowing the Liberty star down. Even when she’s not on the ball, Ionescu sets good screens, and at Friday’s practice, I asked her about that:
“I do really appreciate just setting good screens because understanding the angles of which the defense is playing me, and usually they’re in a no leave and trying to deny me the ball,” said Ionescu. “And so understanding that if I’m able to set a great screen, there’s usually two on me and someone else is able to get open and understanding the gravity that I have when I do set a screen of getting my teammate open and sometimes even being able to get myself open.
“So, I think that’s something that I’ve learned a lot more this year is to how to be able to move without the ball, cut really well, attract attention, and then us be able to get into an action somewhere else on the ball. And you know, whether it’s for me or not for me understanding that it’s it’s benefiting us as a team and I’ve really enjoyed taking on that role in the games that I’ve had too as well.”
Great players are ones that can always find a way to contribute even when the shots aren’t there for them.
We’ll see who the Sun put on Ionescu tonight. Natisha Heideman got the assignment in the last matchup in Connecticut, and Ionescu was able to turn up late and make clutch plays. Connecticut has size on the perimeter with Rebecca Allen, but the former Liberty wing might be needed to defend some of the other players in the excellent Liberty starting five.
Ultimately, this one will be won on the interior. Jonquel Jones has had plenty of success on the inside against her former team. JJ was the team MVP in the first round as she was able to attack the mismatches over and over again. In the regular season against Connecticut, she did the same
Without Bri Jones, the Sun lost someone that had the size and shooting touch to make things a bit harder on their former teammate. Bonner has played some back up five and Stephanie White has started to incorporate Olivia Nelson-Ododa back into the rotation. They’ll need ONO and the rest of the team to pose a threat to Jones on the inside and crash the boards to prevent her from cleaning up on the offensive glass.
Player to watch: Alyssa Thomas
You save your best for last, and AT had a night to remember to close out the first round. Thomas’ 28 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds helped the Sun move on to the semifinals and showed why she’s one of the MVP contenders this season. Connecticut will need that and then some against a Liberty ballclub that has made it hard on Thomas. In four regular season games against New York, Thomas only shot above 40 percent from the field in just one game. The Liberty have the right amount of size, length, and athleticism to throw a wrench into Thomas’ plans.
Breanna Stewart got one more accolade to add to her resume:
Stewie was a big part of the Liberty’s consistently improving defense, and her ability to take on every assignment gives Sandy Brondello’s club a myriad of options to work with. She found her shot in game two vs. the Mystics, and finding offense on the move will help immensely against this Sun team. With possessions getting tighter the deeper we go in the playoffs, having a player who can do everything like Stewart opens things up for the team when going up against the best defenses.
From the Vault
At halftime, Lola Brooke will be the halftime performer at the ‘clays!
More reading: 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’s Sandy Brondello on slowing down Sun star Alyssa Thomas ahead of semifinals matchup: ‘Easier said than done’ - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News
- Breanna Stewart, Liberty ready for next step in WNBA playoff journey - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Liberty’s Jonquel Jones on her team’s nature: ‘We’re special’ - Brian Heyman - Newsday
- WNBA semifinals: Aces, Liberty remain on a collision course - Michael Voepel & Alexa Phillippou - ESPN