Brooklyn Boro

Stewart and Liberty bounce back big

Star forward guides New York past Griner-less Mercury

June 20, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Breanna Stewart pointed to the “law of averages” when describing her Sunday afternoon basketball clinic at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

Through 10 games as a member of the New York Liberty, the two-time WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player is putting up historic averages.

Five days after a dreadful shooting effort vs. Atlanta on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, Stewart put up a game-high 28 points, ripped down a season-high 14 rebounds and dished out a season-best seven assists as New York beat the Britney Griner-less Phoenix Mercury, 89-71.

The capacity crowd of 9,278, many of whom were eager to see Griner’s first New York appearance since her 10-month detainment in Russia last year, were instead treated to Stewart’s bounce back from a dismal 1-of-14 performance from the field in an 86-79 loss her last Tuesday.

The two-time WNBA champion, who came here to help the Liberty capture their first-ever league crown, went 7-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, and 11-of-13 at the charity stripe.

Phoenix’s Brittney Griner was a no-go Sunday in Brooklyn, but Liberty players drew inspiration from the eight-time WNBA All-Star. AP Photo by Nick Wass

She also grabbed three of New York’s season-high 12 offensive boards as the Liberty (7-3) closed out a 2-1 homestand with their third win in four contests.

“I wanted to make an assertive effort to be aggressive,” said Stewart, who also became the first player in WNBA history to amass at least 200 points, 100 rebounds and 40 assists through the first 10 games of the season.

“Especially at the start of the game and hopefully have everyone follow. Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall in the basket and that’s what happened last game. Law of averages, things kind of even out a little bit.”

Stewart is ranked second in the league with 23.9 points per game and 10.8 rebounds. She also is averaging 4.0 assists and 1.7 blocks per contest.

With All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu out, Marine Johannes, who had a game-high 18 points in the loss to the Dream last Tuesday, finished with 10 points and future Hall of Fame backcourt mate Courtney Vandersloot added eight points and six assists.

Jonquel Jones poured in 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds after shaking off a non-COVID-related illness. She and the rest of the Liberty rallied around Stewart, who also showed off her passing and dribbling skills.

“With Sabrina being out, we were actually practicing me running the point guard a little bit,” Stewart revealed.

While Ionescu continued to rest a sore left hamstring, Griner sat out with a sore hip and fellow Phoenix superstar Diana Taurasi also was unable to go due to a hamstring issue.

That didn’t prevent her from meeting and greeting Liberty players before and after the game.

“It was definitely great seeing BG,” said Stewart. “So it was a little bit emotional seeing her, but I’m really proud of the way she’s been handling everything on and off the court. She’s an inspiration.”

So is Stewart, who has already grabbed a pair of Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards to go with her May Player of the Month honor, making her the early favorite to win a second league MVP trophy and first since 2018.

Even more importantly, she is making believers of those who billed the Liberty as the WNBA’S new “Superteam”, one that hopes to produce Flatbush Avenue’s first championship parade since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

They’ll continue that quest in Atlanta on Friday night.

Betnijah Laney helped the Liberty force 16 Phoenix turnovers during their win in Downtown Brooklyn Sunday. AP Photo by Bebeto Matthews

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty had 18 assists on 20 made baskets in the first half Sunday as they opened a 53-34 cushion. … After completing their three-game season series with the Dream Friday, the Liberty will return to Barclays Sunday to host the Washington Mystics in the hopes of avenging a season-opening loss. That game will be televised on ABC at 1 p.m. … New York will play four of its next five games on the road, including a three-game road trip that will open on June 27 at Connecticut, where Jones spent her first six WNBA seasons and won MVP honors in 2021.

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