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End of the road for resilient Liberty

Drop decisive Game 3 to WNBA champs at Barclays

August 24, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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The New York Liberty had to overcome a 1-7 start, a late-season slide and countless injuries just to get to the opening round of the playoffs.

But in the end, the battle-hardened Brooklyn-based squad didn’t have enough left in the tank to outlast the defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky.

Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper scored 15 points apiece to pace six Sky players in double figures Tuesday night as Chicago pulled away for a 90-72 victory over the Liberty in the third and deciding game of a hard-fought first-round playoff series in front of 7,837 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

Candace Parker finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists as the Sky brushed off a Game 1 loss at home to take the last two contests from New York, remaining alive in their pursuit of the first back-to-back titles in the WNBA since the Los Angeles Sparks completed the feat in 2001-02.

“We stayed with it. We learned from Game 1,” said Parker, who fell two assists shy of posting the fourth triple-double in WNBA playoff history.

“This is a great New York team,” she added. “They have a great corps, they shoot the 3 well.”

Chicago will take on the winner of the Connecticut-Dallas first-round series, which will culminate with Game 3 on Wednesday night.

All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu drew the Liberty (1-2) within 68-65 early in the fourth quarter, drilling a 24-footer and feeding Betnijah Laney for a short jumper that brought the heartened crowd to its feet.

But the Sky (2-1) reeled off 16 consecutive points thereafter as Quigley knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to give second-seeded Chicago an 84-65 cushion with 4:14 to play.

“We knew what we had to do. They were all on a mission and you could tell it was a collective mission,” Chicago head coach and newly minted WNBA Executive of the Year James Wade said.

“We decided it was go time and show what we were made of and responded in Game 2 and built on it after that.”

Candace Parker nearly put up a triple-double Wednesday night at Barclays Center, lifting Chicago over New York in Game 3 of a WNBA first-round playoff series. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

Courtney Vandersloot had 14 points and 10 assists and Azura Stevens and Emma Meeseman added 12 points apiece for the Sky, who blew out the Liberty in Chicago last Saturday to even the series before walking off with this one in the final 10 minutes.

“I think it starts with our defense,” noted Parker. “Our team did a good job of grinding it out and doing everything we can.”

Laney scored 15 points, Natasha Howard added 14 points and 11 rebounds and Ionescu also had 14 points for New York, which hosted its first home playoff game since 2017 and first-ever at Barclays.

It may have been hard to imagine the Liberty going this far when they dropped seven of their first eight games, lost Laney for a good chunk of the season and saw regular contributors like Rebecca Allen and Howard also miss games throughout the campaign.

But Ionescu came on like the transformational player New York was hoping for when it took her first overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

She earned two Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards and four Player of the Week honors while also joining Howard at her first All-Star Game.

Though the Liberty suffered through a five-game skid in July that threatened to derail their postseason hopes, they bounced back in fine fashion down the stretch, going 7-3, including a season-ending three-game winning streak that got them the No. 7 seed.

New York stunned Chicago in the opening game of the series, pulling out a 98-91 triumph in the Windy City to push the champs to the brink of elimination.

Though they fell short of their ultimate goal, the 2022 New York Liberty took the defending WNBA champs to a third and decisive game in the playoffs. AP Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast

The Sky remained undaunted. They rolled to consecutive wins and left the Liberty to lament what could have been after a strong start to the series and an even stronger finish to the regular season.

“(Chicago) is a really good team, see the chemistry they have,” New York head coach Sandy Brondello said after being eliminated by Chicago for the second straight year.

“They have poise and they made plays and we couldn’t. We rushed a few shots when they made some plays. Proud of these girls, proud of this team. The more experienced team won tonight.”

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