Brooklyn Boro

Liberty hosts Vegas at Barclays Thursday

New York looks to rebound from first home loss vs. Aces

June 1, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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The New York Liberty have so surpassed expectations during the season’s first two weeks that it’s easy to forget they went a league-worst 2-20 during last year’s COVID-abbreviated campaign.

However, with greater expectations come greater pressures.

Especially for a franchise that is still seeking its first-ever WNBA title despite being a charter member of the league.

Winners of five of their first six games, the surprising Liberty took a small step back Saturday at Downtown’s Barclays Center, suffering a heartbreaking 90-87 loss to the visiting Atlanta Dream in front of 1,234 fans for their first home defeat of this thus-far magical campaign.

New York was in position to potentially force a second overtime and improve to 4-0 in Brooklyn this year, but Atlanta’s Courtney Williams capped a game-high 31-point effort by drilling a 3-pointer with 1.5 ticks left in OT.

“This is a long season, there will be games like this,” ceded Liberty guard Sami Whitcomb after scoring a season-high 19 points vs. the Dream.

“There’s an ebb and flow to every season,” she added. “We have to stay even keel. We have to be focusing on the next game.”

That would be Thursday night here on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush at 7 p.m., completing a three-game homestand that began with New York’s 88-81 win over Dallas on May 24.

Despite losing veteran forward/center Natasha Howard to a left knee injury in that victory, the Liberty still have plenty of options.

Rookie sensation Michaela Onyenwere poured in a career-high 29 points in Saturday’s loss and Betnijah Laney continued her sizzling start to the season with 20 points and a career high-tying 11 assists.

Laney is the only Liberty player ever to open a season with at least seven consecutive 20-plus point performances, leaving her just two shy of Cynthia Cooper’s WNBA record established in 1999.

Of course, no mention of this campaign would be complete without describing the brilliance of Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who buried a buzzer-beater to get the season off to a strong start and also earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors during her true rookie year.

Fans everywhere are clamoring for a look at Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who has helped New York to a surprising 5-2 start. AP Photo by Eileen T. Meslar

Limited to only three games last year due to an ankle injury, Ionescu is putting up 16.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and a team-high 7.1 assists per contest. She has already registered the only triple-double in Liberty history and became the youngest player to do so during the season’s first week.

“I mean, we’re (seven) games in, and we’ve talked about how many times [Ionescu] has risen to a moment,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said after New York’s win in the homestand opener.

Howard, who was putting up 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games with New York after being acquired in a three-team deal earlier this year, underwent an MRI at Hospital for Special Surgery last week which revealed she had suffered a sprain of her medial collateral ligament.

Though she won’t be back for at least a month, Howard, a three-time WNBA champion with Minnesota and Seattle, should be rejoining a unit that is in the hunt for a playoff spot during the dog days of summer.

New York is only one-half game behind the dynastic Storm for the best record in the league, a position it hopes to bolster Thursday vs. visiting Las Vegas.

Former Liberty center Tina Charles scored at least 20 points in a team-record nine consecutive games, a mark Betnijah Laney is trying to break. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer


GIVE ME LIBERTY: With two more 20-plus point games, Laney will tie former Liberty legend Tina Charles for the single-season franchise lead in that category. … Whitcomb has hit at least one 3-pointer in each of the past five games. … The Liberty announced earlier this week that they have named fitness professional and Peloton instructor Jess Sims as their official In-Arena Co-Host. “Basketball is my absolute favorite sport and I am so grateful to the Liberty for this opportunity to channel my love for the game to connect with fans and celebrate the incredible athletes on the floor,” said Sims. “Basketball has played such a pivotal role in my life, from connecting me to my father to teaching me life skills like discipline, hard work and the importance of being part of a team. I am incredibly excited to be part of the Liberty organization.” Sims worked her first game alongside fellow in-arena host Jason Negron at Barclays last weekend.

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