For the second time in three days, the Minnesota Lynx struggled to find answers for Sabrina Ionescu.
The first time on Sunday didn’t cost them. The second on Tuesday night certainly did.
Ionescu finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the New York Liberty pulled away in the second half to beat the Lynx 88-69 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in front of a crowd that included WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
The former Oregon star finished 10 for 11 from the field. Kayla McBride finished with 13 points to lead Minnesota.
“Sabrina is a great player obviously,” said Lynx forward Jessica Shepard, who finished with nine points and a team-best seven rebounds. “It’s her ability to facilitate as well as shoot that makes her so difficult to stop. But we also need to do a better job — 10 for 11 from the field. That’s our defense just not being up where we need to be.”
The Lynx (3-9) had beaten the Liberty 84-78 on May 24 at Target Center and 84-77 this past Sunday in Brooklyn despite 31 points from Ionescu. Minnesota was going for the season-sweep Tuesday, but those efforts were thwarted by a big night for New York from behind the 3-point line.
The Liberty (4-8), who finished 4 for 30 from beyond the arc in the loss to the Lynx on Sunday, finished 12 for 33 Tuesday night. That included a 4 for 4 performance from Ionescu.
“They did an amazing job offensively,” said rookie guard Evina Westbrook, who finished with five points in more than 22 minutes off the bench. “Unfortunately for us, our defense just wasn’t there as a collective. Especially at times when we needed it. They were able to knock down shots and do things they just weren’t doing in the last game.”
Minnesota — which went just 3 for 22 from 3-point range — led by as much as three twice in the first quarter, including at 17-14 after a pair of free throws by Shepard with 3:42 to play. But the Liberty ended the quarter on a 14-2 run to jump on top 28-19.
Minnesota turned the ball over six times in the first quarter, leading to nine New York points.
“Tonight was disappointing,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, whose team finished with 12 turnovers in all. “Very, very disappointing, because I thought we had made some progress. But our will was not very much tonight.”
Minnesota pulled within one on a basket by guard Aerial Powers with 3:14 remaining before halftime. But guard Sami Whitcomb hit two of her three first-half 3-pointers down the stretch, then Ionescu drained a 3-pointer from half-court as time expired to give the Liberty a 45-37 lead.
New York would then outscore Minnesota 29-11 in the third quarter — including scoring 17 of the second half’s first 23 points — to pull away for good.
“The way we ended the second quarter … winning teams manage the end of quarters,” Reeve said. “We still lack all the little plays that are the difference between winning and losing. We’re going to continue to try and teach this group that because momentum, end-of-quarter stuff carries into the next half.”
The Lynx return home to face Washington at 7 p.m. Friday at Target Center. It marks the start of a three-game homestand.
“We’re trying to get a little winning streak going,” Westbrook said. “Being at home would be a perfect time to start that.”