Liberty stay alive by clipping Wings
Jump back into tie with Atlanta for final WNBA playoff spot
With two games remaining in this up-and-down season, the New York Liberty are alive and well in the WNBA playoff hunt.
Sabrina Ionescu’s second-half surge and Sami Whitcomb’s big performance off the bench made sure of that Wednesday night in Dallas.
Ionescu scored all 13 of her points following intermission to go with nine rebounds and seven assists, and Whitcomb sparked New York’s bench mob with 15 points as the Liberty resuscitated their postseason hopes with a 91-73 victory over the Wings in front of 3,795 fans at the College Park Center.
On the outside looking in at the playoff picture after two straight losses, including Monday night’s 86-77 setback in Dallas, the Liberty (14-20) picked the right time to get hot after a dismal first quarter that saw them fall behind 31-18.
Ionescu, who went 0-for-4 from the floor in the first half after putting up a season-high 32 points against the Wings Monday, certainly needed help to keep New York in the game, much less the postseason race.
She got it from Whitcomb, who hit 5-of-8 shots, including four big 3-pointers, as the Liberty bench outscored the Dallas reserves by a whopping 50-9 to snap the Wings’ franchise-record five-game winning streak.
“I don’t think we were playing tough enough (in the first quarter),” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello.
“Credit to the bench. They came in and gave us great energy,” she added. “We needed our bench tonight and they gave us a boost to get us back in the game.”
New York used an 18-5 second-quarter run to even the contest at 36-36 and Whitcomb hit her final shot from beyond the arc to give the Liberty a 51-47 advantage with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.
Stifled throughout the opening 20 minutes, Ionescu made the most of the next 10, putting up 11 points, ripping down four boards and handing out four helpers as New York opened a 67-57 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week capped the third-quarter outburst with a dazzling buzzer-beating layup and the Liberty never looked back.
Instead, New York can look forward to its critical season-ending two-game series against Atlanta (14-20), which begins Friday night on the road before the Liberty host the Dream at Barclays Center Sunday afternoon in what could be a winner-take-all finale for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Marine Johannes added 13 points, Betnijah Laney had 11 and All-Star Natasha Howard shook off a bad ankle to finish with nine points for New York, which held Dallas’ Marina Mabrey to 19 points two nights after she posted a career-best 31 in the series opener.
The Wings (17-17), who have already snagged the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, were drubbed by a 24-16 count over the final 10 minutes.
The Liberty will have to finish strong yet again to reach the postseason for the second straight year.
“We need to win this series against (Atlanta),” said Whitcomb. “We have to try and get this first game and we’d love to go 2-0. We pretty much will be playing for our lives.”
GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty went 13-of-27 from 3-point range and 10-of-11 at the line Wednesday. … Ionescu, who hit all 12 of New York’s free throws in Monday’s series opener, didn’t attempt a single free throw in the finale. … Sunday’s game vs. Atlanta here in Downtown Brooklyn will be televised by ESPN3 at 2 p.m.
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