Sabrina Ionescu seemingly could do no wrong in her last matchup with the Las Vegas Aces. But the Aces were clearly determined not to let the All-Star guard take the game over again Tuesday and the Liberty struggled early.
The Aces defeated the Liberty, 107-101, at the Barclays Center Tuesday evening in both teams’ first game since Sunday’s WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago.
Ionescu came on late but it wasn’t quite enough to pull out the victory. Ionescu had 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including 4 of 9 from deep, with three rebounds and five assists in the loss Tuesday. After struggling for the first three quarters, Ionescu played her best in the fourth quarter, including making a three-pointer in the corner with 38.5 seconds left in the contest to cut the Aces’ lead to 97-92. She had 12 points over the game’s final 38.5 seconds.
One week earlier, Ionescu had 31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the Liberty’s 116-107 victory over the Aces Wednesday. It was the highest-scoring triple-double in WNBA history.
Kelsey Plum, who was the MVP of Sunday’s WNBA All-Star Game, scored 10 points of her 27 points in the first quarter for the Aces.
The Aces jumped out to a 30-16 lead after the opening 10 minutes. They shot 54.5% from the field — including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. The Liberty struggled offensively, shooting 31.6% from the field with four turnovers.
The Aces (16-7) expanded their lead to 52-28 at halftime with the Liberty unable to produce much on the offensive end. The Liberty (9-14) had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as field goals (11) in the first half and shot 26.2% from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
Sami Whitcomb willed the Liberty back into the contest in the third quarter. After being held without a shot in the first half, the guard shot 5-for-6 from beyond the arc in the third quarter for 15 of her 23 points in the period. The Liberty used a 35-19 third quarter to cut the Aces’ lead to 71-63 after the third quarter, including ending the period on a 20-6 run.
The Liberty brought the score to 73-66 following a three-pointer from Rebecca Allen with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter but the Aces responded with an 11-4 run to take an 84-70 lead with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Whitcomb finished with 17 points and Natasha Howard had 20 points and 11 rebounds. Howard had 17 of her points in the second half.
The Liberty host the Aces again Thursday at 11 a.m.
The Liberty are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining in the regular season. They entered Tuesday seven games out of first place but just a half-game out of the final playoff spot.
“We’re looking at this second part of the year as, ‘Let’s get healthy and be more consistent, and our goal is to make it to playoffs and every game counts,” coach Sandy Brondello said pregame. “We can’t let any slip so hopefully our focus is where it needs to be.”
Ionescu echoed her coach before the contest about the importance of every contest over the final weeks of the season.
“It’s the final stretch so every game matters,” Ionescu said. “Every game is super important, we have to make a good push and continue to get better so these next 14 games are going to be really big for us.”