The Liberty started the season with an impressive win over the Connecticut Sun at Barclays Center, then went into a tailspin losing seven straight including a 92-65 blowout loss to the Sun, also at Barclays.
That was May. This is June. Starting June 1, the Liberty has morphed into one of the WNBA’s best teams. For the month, they are now 6-3. More importantly, they’ve been in every game, losing those three contests by seven, two and nine points.
Wednesday night at Mohegan Sun arena in Uncasville, the Libs had another impressive win, beating the Sun, 81-77, while maintaining their cool as the Sun attempted comeback after comeback only to fall short. The Nets did it without Han Xu who was out with a sore throat as well as Becca Allen, Betnijah Laney and Jocelyn Witherspoon.
“She’s got a bit of a sore throat and she wasn’t feeling great in the last game,” said head coach Sandy Brondello. “It’s a big loss for us, she’s our third best scorer and a way to get some post touches. Let’s hope she recovers and she’s okay by Atlanta.
“She’s a big loss for us tonight. We don’t want to just go to her on the block, we like to space her as well. One day, we’re gonna have a healthy team, and that’ll be a great day.”
The Liberty got a head start on that “great day” Wednesday. Didi Richards was back on the court with no minutes restrictions and she filled in nicely. Although she scored only two points, a neat drive at a critical point in the fourth quarter, she played 16 minutes, grabbing four rebounds and blocking a shot.
“Toughness. That’s what you get from DiDi,” said Brondello. “She’s tough. Everyone knows her journey to get back here. She’s resilient. Love that girl, because she brings energy and does whatever the team needs.”
She wasn’t alone. New York played a tough game, particularly in the fourth.
Things started off well for the seafoam-and-black, other than an 0-of-6 start for Sabrina Ionescu and three early turnovers. New York set a season high for first-half points with 51 after shooting 48.7 percent from the field, including 10-of-21 behind the arc. Six different New York players made a 3-pointer in the first half, including every starter. The Liberty finished at 44.9 percent overall, going 13-of-32 from behind the arc.
With a nine-point lead at the half, the Liberty knew that the Sun would make a run or runs and they did. It became more of a defensive struggle with the two teams scoring a combined 63 points after putting up 93 in quarters 1 and 2.
It meant some adjustments for Brondello and her team.
“Experience helps,” said Stefanie Dolson, the Libs’ 6’5” center. “The more we play in these close games, the more we learn Sandy. The way she coaches, the way she draws up a play. That she can say one thing and we know what she means. That comes from the chemistry we’re building.
“We knew we were a man down, especially in the post. I give credit to our guards. It’s a team effort to rebound and box out. That’s what’s important and needed against a team like [the Sun] who are so big and make their living [inside].”
Dolson led the team in scoring, with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep. Natasha Howard also had a big game, with 14 points. But as Dolson said, the team’s guards came up big.
Sami Whitcomb came off the bench and hit four 3-pointers, finishing with 14 points, Ionescu finally found her shot and wound up with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists while Marina Johannes finished with 11 points, including three 3-pointers, five assists, two rebounds, and a steal. More importantly, the French wing kept the Sun’s DeWanna Bonner in check. The 6’4” forward finished with 12 points, but was limited to 5-of-13 shooting.
“She’s been great defensively, in terms of executing scout. We’ve put her in matchups that would be tough for everybody and she’s done a great job,” said Whitcomb.
“She always says people in France don’t think she’s a good defender,: added her coach. “I think she is. She’s athletic, she competes, executes a scout. That comes from trusting everybody, knowing we have her back. That’s how we’ve grown as a team.”
The game came down to the second half of the fourth quarter. The Sun made two runs to get within five points but each time, the Liberty came back with Dolson hitting the 3-point dagger at 1:29 to give New York an 80-70 lead.
“Stef’s really dependable and reliable for us. Whether it’s shooting or moving the ball for us… the more we can get Stef involved, the better we are.”
Beyond the big win, the Liberty discussed their growth.
“It’s nice to be rewarded for the effort, for the growth. We don’t want moral victories. For us, it was about getting to this place where we’ve been a few times previously, but also winning the game.”
Sabrina Ionescu All-Star starter
The WNBA announced Wednesday that Sabrina Ionescu, last week’s Player of the Week, will start in the WNBA All-Star Game, her first.
The youngest player to record multiple triple-doubles in league history, has earned her spot as a 2022 @WNBA All-Star starter.
— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) June 22, 2022
The 2022 game 2022 will be played in Chicago at Wintrust Arena on Sunday, July 10 at 1:00 pm ET, on ABC.
Becca Allen remains in concussion protocol and Betnijah Laney is probably a month away but Jocelyn Willoughby looks like she’s close.
“I’m hoping she’ll travel with us to LA and hopefully we can build up some minutes there so there’ll be another body that we can get back on the court and utilize,” Sandy Brondello said.
The West Coast road trip begins July 3.