Brooklyn Boro

Liberty postseason hopes dimming fast

Host Phoenix in latest 'must-win' game at Barclays

August 24, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Clinging to a half-game lead in the WNBA playoff race and having lost five of their last six games, the New York Liberty will be back in “must-win” mode Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center when they host the opener of a two-game series against the Phoenix Mercury.

New York head coach Walt Hopkins referred to last Wednesday’s 83-79 triumph over defending league champion Seattle here in the opener of a five-game homestand as absolutely necessary following the Liberty’s three-game skid surrounding the Olympic break.

But the breakthrough victory didn’t have lasting power.

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The Liberty (11-14) dropped a 99-83 decision to the Storm in Friday’s rematch at Barclays and suffered a heartbreaking 86-83 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks in Downtown Brooklyn on Sunday with no fans in attendance due to Hurricane Henri.

The back-to-back defeats dropped New York into a virtual tie with the Sparks (10-13) for the final two playoff spots in the WNBA’s overall standings.

It also left the Liberty just one-half game ahead of ninth-place Dallas (10-14), the first team on the outside looking in at the postseason race.

“We didn’t trust each other,” Hopkins lamented after his team allowed Los Angeles to shoot 59 percent from the floor following intermission and committed a whopping 22 turnovers, including 10 in the fourth quarter.

“We got beat off the dribble, weak-side help wasn’t there and we gave up offensive rebounds,” Hopkins added.

They also might have lost the best 3-point shooter in the league.

Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins wasn’t very pleased after New York’s loss to Los Angeles in Downtown Brooklyn Sunday. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

Sami Whitcomb, who came in leading the league in shots made from beyond the arc, finished with 17 points while draining five 3-balls, but she also sprained her ankle and was scheduled to undergo an MRI this week.

Natasha Howard had 17 points to go with 11 rebounds, Rebecca Allen added 15 points off the bench and Sabrina Ionescu finished with 12 points and eight assists for New York, which has lost five of its last six.

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a lot with (dead-ball turnovers),” Ionescu noted. “Those things add up over the course of the game.”

Ionescu actually had a chance to draw the Liberty even down the stretch, but her bid for a tying 3-pointer was blocked by Brittney Sykes as time expired.

Erica Wheeler scored 17 points and Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Tolliver addeed 16 apiece for Los Angeles, which has won a season-high four in a row to pull within percentage points of New York for seventh place.

“Trust comes in so many ways. I think there are just moments where we have to be stronger, mentally and physically,” said Allen.

The Liberty might be missing Sami Whitcomb (left) Wednesday night when they host Phoenix at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Even in defeat Sunday, the Liberty set a new franchise record by making 16 3-pointers, edging the previous mark of 15 set vs. Dallas on July 5. … New York All-Star Betnijah Laney made up for a slow start Sunday by scoring all 10 of her points over the final 13 1/2 minutes of regulation. She also had a game-high nine assists. … The Sparks and Liberty split their season series 1-1. … The Liberty beat the Mercury in Phoenix on June 13 behind 23 points and 10 assists from Laney. … New York is 6-13 since opening the season with five victories in its first six contests.

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