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Liberty ‘keep the faith’ with big comeback

Rally past Sparks for key victory in ongoing playoff push

August 4, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty know their path to the postseason.

It’s all on them to take it.

Ionescu scored a game-high 26 points, including 11 in the fateful fourth quarter, to go with eight assists and six rebounds Wednesday night as the Liberty rallied for a grind-it-out 64-61 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in front of 5,315 playoff-hopeful fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“Got scores when we needed to,” said Ionescu after New York completed a back-to-back sweep of Los Angeles in Brooklyn and posted its first three-game winning streak of the campaign.

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“We just kept the faith. … It’s really hard to beat a team on a back-to-back.”

The Liberty cruised to a 102-73 rout of the Sparks (12-19) here on Tuesday night, when the WNBA revealed its first-ever gaming-themed hardwood.

Though the floor remained in place for the rematch, this one lacked the same high-scoring video-game action.

Instead, the teams failed to shoot better than 40 percent from the field or 25 percent from 3-point range throughout the contest.

Despite the offensive malaise, the Sparks led by as many as 20 and appeared in control of matters with a 50-35 lead in the third quarter.

Sabrina Ionescu scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as New York rallied past Los Angeles at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Wednesday. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

But New York clamped down over the final 5:35 of the period, keeping L.A. scoreless while putting up the last 10 points.

A 13-4 run by the Liberty in the fourth quarter was capped by two clutch free throws from Ionescu, who gave New York a 60-59 advantage for its first lead of the game.

The All-Star point guard knocked down two more from the line down the stretch before burying a bank shot that closed the scoring.

The Sparks, losers of five straight as their playoff hopes wane, had a shot at the buzzer, but Lexie Brown missed a potential tying 3-pointer.

“It was who had the most legs left to execute down the stretch the best to be honest,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said of New York’s fourth win in four games. “We had to dig hard, we had to play hard to win.”

All-Star Natasha Howard had 12 points and seven rebounds for New York (13-19), which moved into a tie with Phoenix for seventh place in the ongoing postseason race.

The Liberty can hold onto their spot if they win their final five regular-season games, a stretch that begins with a challenging four-game road trip before the season finale here vs. Atlanta on Aug. 14.

“We have four games in seven days,” Brondello said. “That’s tough.”

So are the Liberty, who have salvaged a season on the brink at 1-7 and now have a chance to reach the postseason for the second consecutive year.

None of it may have been possible without a sweep of L.A. here in Brooklyn.

“We were able to get two wins which is big for this franchise into this playoff push,” Ionescu noted.

Nneka Ogwumike scored a team-high 19 points at Barclays Center Wednesday, but the Sparks lost their fifth in a row to the Liberty. AP Photo by Gregory Payan

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty’s elongated trip begins Saturday night in Phoenix before they visit Dallas for a two-game set from Aug. 8-10. New York will also play at ninth-place Atlanta (12-18) on Aug. 12 before hosting the Dream here in the season-ending rematch on Aug. 14. … Stefanie Dolson had seven points and a team-high eight rebounds in Wednesday’s win. … The Liberty had two previous comebacks of 20 points in franchise history, including July 3, 2021 against Washington.

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