Brooklyn Boro

Ionescu helps Liberty light up Sparks

Late playoff push continues with third win in four games

August 3, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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No one can deny that New York Liberty All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu is quite the gamer.

She displayed her formidable skills and toughness at the controls Tuesday in front of 4,891 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center, where the Liberty showed off the WNBA’s first-ever gaming-inspired hardwood and continued their playoff push with a 102-73 rout of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Ionescu scored 20 of her game-high 31 points in the first half, grabbed nine rebounds, handed out four assists and added four steals as New York (12-18) won for the third time in four games to move into a dead heat with Los Angeles (12-18) and Atlanta for the eighth and final postseason spot.

The Liberty will have to hold serve again Wednesday night in Brooklyn, where the playoff-hungry units will cap the two-game set with the finale of their three-game season series.

A win could put New York up a full game with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand based on the teams splitting their first two encounters.

But a loss would drop the Liberty a game back and needing to finish ahead of the Sparks for a playoff spot over the final five regular-season games.

Atlanta, which has dropped four straight, will host Los Angeles on Friday in another key tilt while the Liberty will play a home-and-home with the Dream in the final two games of the season from Aug. 12-14.

The desperation of the final few weeks of the season has Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello on a “10 minutes at a time” approach, which took wind as soon as the opening tip went up Tuesday.

Natasha Howard knows that each game the Liberty play is their biggest of the season as they try to reach the postseason. AP Photo by Rick Scuteri

New York went on a 10-2 run toward the end of the first quarter, a 13-5 burst in the second and a 14-2 run in the third to put the game out of reach, 82-56, entering the final 10 minutes.

“I’ve seen growth in this team,” Brondello said. “Games like this, you kind of see where you’re at. (The Sparks) traveled across the country. That’s really hard, but tomorrow will be a new ballgame.”

Ionescu was at the forefront of the Liberty attack, hitting 11-of-16 shots, including a 5-for-9 effort from 3-point range, in only 24 minutes. She made all four of her free throws on a night New York misfired on only two of 19 attempts at the line.

Fellow All-Star Natasha Howard amassed 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 11 rebounds, Han Xu played a great all-around game with 13 points, eight assists, seven boards and a blocked shot and Marine Johannes added 12 points for the Liberty, who shot a blistering 58 percent from the field.

“We needed to play better against L.A.,” Howard insisted, referring to New York’s 84-74 loss at the Arena on July 3.

Brittney Sykes had a team-high 19 points for the struggling Sparks, who lost their fourth in a row and seventh in nine contests.

Los Angeles did employ a very physical style against New York early, hoping to quell the Liberty’s desire.

But that only stoked Ionescu’s competitive fire.

“They’re aggressive,” Ionescu said of the Sparks’ defensive strategy. “As long as we kept our cool, stayed consistent. … We stuck to what worked for us.”

After taking exception to a foul by Chennedy Carter late in the first quarter, Ionescu calmly sank a 24-footer to put New York up 24-20 with 34.7 seconds remaining.

The Liberty never looked back.

“I love it. They can try to rattle me all they want so it feeds into what they do best,” Ionescu added.

Now, she and the resurgent Liberty can only look ahead to Wednesday’s clash at Barclays.

“We have another one tomorrow,” Ionescu reminded everyone. “That’s the next biggest game coming up.”

The XBox-designed floor at Barclays Center Tuesday night was the first of its kind in WNBA history. Photo courtesy of New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty, in collaboration with Xbox, unveiled the Xbox-inspired court for both games of this series here in Brooklyn. It also marked the first-ever secondary court design for a WNBA game. “Our partnership with Xbox is especially meaningful because it’s part of a larger effort to the highlight the power of women in sports and gaming,” said Liberty CEO Keia Clarke. “As we look to grow our game and fanbase, we’re thankful to partners like Xbox for their commitment to supporting women and innovation in sports.” … Howard posted her fifth double-double in a row Tuesday, tying former Liberty standout Tina Charles for the franchise record of consecutive games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. … Xu’s eight assists vs. L.A. established a new career best in that category.

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