Liberty looking to rise over Mercury

Ionescu slated to return in finale of three-game homestand

June 15, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu is expected to make her return to the Brooklyn hardwood Sunday afternoon at Downtown’s Barclays Center, where the New York Liberty will host the Phoenix Mercury in the finale of a three-game homestand.

Ionescu, coming off a career-high 37-point performance at Atlanta last weekend and a 22-point effort in a win over Dallas Sunday on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, had to sit out Tuesday night’s deflating 86-79 loss to the Dream with a sore left hamstring.

New York head coach Sandy Brondello insisted that the benching was for precautionary reasons, and that the Liberty’s second-leading scorer (16.5 points per game) was likely to be back in the fold vs. Phoenix.

“It was the smartest thing for us to do, knowing we have four days off after this,” Brondello noted of Ionescu’s absence before watching her team suffer through a fourth-quarter malaise against Atlanta.

The Liberty (6-3), who had scored at least 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history, shot a dismal 26-of-66 (39 percent) from the floor, including 8-of-27 (29 percent) from 3-point range.

Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Breanna Stewart endured a 1-for-14 shooting effort, but did go to the line 12 times, making 10 of her attempts.

Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury will make the first of their two visits to Brooklyn Sunday afternoon to take on the Liberty. AP Photo by Tony Gutierrez

Sharpshooter Marine Johannes, filling in for Ionescu, scored a game-high 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, nailing a quartet of 3-pointers. But the rest of the Liberty made 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

“We have to play better around Stewie (with Ionescu) out,” Johannes noted. “We have to help her.”

Ionescu, who nailed a franchise-record eight 3-pointers against the Dream last Friday, should be back to amend some of New York’s shooting woes.

She has drained nearly 43 percent of her 3-balls this year, ranking first on the team with 3.4 3s made per game.

That should take some of the heat off Stewart, who had a season-low 12 points against Atlanta here on Tuesday.

Phoenix (2-6), anchored by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, are suffering through an early season malaise.

The Mercury, who were scheduled to visit Washington on Friday, are coming off Tuesday’s 83-69 home loss to Seattle.

Taurasi and Griner combined to go 1-for-11 from the floor in Phoenix’s fourth loss in five games, prompting Mercury coach Vanessa Nygard to call her team out for their poor effort.

“Nobody cares,” Nygard said. “We have to adjust, the players we have are great WNBA players and they’ve got to step up when they’re given an opportunity. They’re more than capable.”

Griner, who was detained and arrested by Russian customs officers for smuggling medically prescribed hasish oil in February of 2022, found herself being harassed at the Dallas airport last week by a social media provacateur.

According to the Associated Press. Griner and the Mercury were considering alternative travel options ahead of their trip to Washington for Friday’s game.

Despite her tough night against the Storm, Griner ranks seventh in the WNBA in scoring at 20.1 points per contest. Stewart is second behind Seattle’s Jewell Loyd with 23.4 points per game.

Stewart and Griner should be eager to get back on track offensively Sunday afternoon in a game that will be televised by CBS at high noon.

And Stewart, an early season Most Valuable Player candidate, will be happy to see Ionescu back in the lineup, as will the Brooklynites at Barclays hoping to see the league’s “Superteam” continue its march toward the franchise’s first-ever WNBA title.

“We got stuck on not moving the ball (Tuesday night),” Brondello said. “We didn’t have the appropriate effort for 40 minutes.”

Breanna Stewart hopes to shake off an uncharacterstic poor shooting performance Sunday when the Liberty host the Mercury. AP Photo by Lindsey Wasson

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty gave up 16 second-chance points against the Dream Tuesday and were outrebounded, 42-33, despite a season-high 13 boards by Stewart. … After hosting Atlanta, New York will visit Atlanta on Friday to settle the three-game season series between the Eastern Conference rivals. … The Liberty will be back in Brooklyn on June 25 to host the Washington Mystics, who beat them on Opening Night in our nation’s capital, 80-64.

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