Liberty barely breathing entering finale
Remain playoff-hopeful despite eighth straight loss
Losers of a season-high eight straight games and 11 of their last 12, the New York Liberty will somehow limp into Downtown’s Barclays Center Friday night with a postseason pulse.
Albeit, a very weak one.
Coming off Wednesday night’s humbling 98-69 defeat to league-leading Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, the Liberty (11-20) still have a chance to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA playoff race.
But that will take a win over eighth-place Washington here Friday in their regular-season finale and the Mystics then losing to Minnesota in their last scheduled contest Sunday.
The Los Angeles Sparks (11-19) would also have to lose at least one of their two final games at Atlanta on Thursday and Sunday in Dallas.
Regardless of the slim and somewhat remote possibilities of reaching the postseason, the Liberty will need help not only their fellow playoff competitors, but will have to find a way to win themselves for the first time since Aug. 18.
New York appeared poised for a major upset against the streaking Sun (25-6) in the early stages of Wednesday’s critical tilt.
But the Liberty were ultimately undone in the second half, watching an early 11-point lead evaporate into their largest margin of defeat during this seemingly interminable slide.
“We gave up,” frustrated Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said.
“I thought the team gave up in the second half. They got punched. … We showed that we are having trouble closing games.”
Natasha Howard scored a game-high 25 points, Rookie of the Year frontrunner Michaela Onyenwere added 14 and Sabrina Ionescu finished with 12 for New York, which took a three-point lead into halftime before being outscored 54-21 following intermission.
“The reason I’m frustrated isn’t losing one game to Connecticut,” Hopkins noted. “The reason I’m frustrated is because we go out there with New York on our jersey and that means something.”
To most opponents, seeing New York on the schedule the past month and a half has meant one tough half or quarter followed by a Liberty meltdown.
That was evident again Wednesday.
“They are a challenge. They are a challenge to guard, and they’ve done this to nearly every team in the league,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said.
“They just haven’t been able to sustain it and we found some success in the second half and got them out of rhythm.”
Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Booker each had 18 points for the top-seeded Sun, who won their 13th straight game and showed they could go into another gear and raise their level of toughness when it mattered most.
As for the Liberty, Hopkins believes they still have a ways to go before they can match the resilience and moxie displayed by Connecticut or any other opponent that has beaten them since their 5-1 start to the campaign.
“We’ve talked ad nauseam about the talent of this group. None of it matters if we don’t get tough,” he said.
Friday night will be New York’s last chance to prove its collective toughness.
Otherwise, it will be the Liberty’s fourth consecutive season missing out on the playoffs.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: Onyenwere, who appears to be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors, hit all five of her shots en route to 12 points in the first half Wednesday in Connecticut. … Howard played a great all-around game against the Sun, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, handing out three assists, blocking three shots and picking up a pair of steals to complement her 25-point effort. … Ionescu has scored in double figures in 10 straight games since the Olympic break.
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