East-leading Liberty return to Barclays
Host Phoenix Mercury in opener of two-game homestand
After giving up a season-high 98 points during their loss at WNBA-leading Las Vegas last Thursday, the New York Liberty put the clamps down on Seattle for Breanna Stewart’s second visit to her former home.
Stewart scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds, handed out six assists and picked up five of New York’s season-high 16 steals Sunday as the Liberty cruised to an 81-66 victory over the Storm in front of a sellout crowd of 9,110 at Climate Pledge Arena.
“We found a way. We were a better defensive team today than we were (Thursday),” said Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, whose unit surrendered a season-low point total.
Billed as a battle of the league’s “Superteams”, the Liberty’s visit to Sin City didn’t go as planned. They suffered a 17-point setback to the Aces that left them as the WNBA’s clear No. 2 despite their post atop the Eastern Conference.
New York (11-4) was aching to get back in the win column after having its season high-tying four-game winning streak snapped as well.
But it needed to put its foot down early against Stewart’s ex-teammates.
The Liberty came flying out with a 7-0 burst, capped by Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer, and didn’t come close to trailing thereafter, finishing off the opening quarter with a 26-14 cushion.
“That was big for us. Bouncing (back) from a loss,” noted future Hall of Fame point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who finished with 18 points, a season-high 13 assists and four steals.
“That was a good first quarter for us. Set the tone early,” she added.
Ionescu put up 13 points and Betnijah Laney added 10 for New York, which spread the wealth by amassing 29 assists on its 33 made baskets.
“I think the way we moved the ball is kind of the standard of what we want to do,” said Stewart, who had less fanfare surrounding her second visit to the team she helped lead to two WNBA championships.
“I felt a lot better coming back to Seattle for the second time,” she said just over a month after beating the Storm, 86-78, in the Emerald City on May 30. “The first time was very emotional. … I really appreciate Seattle for what we’ve been able to do together, but I’m very happy to be in New York.”
The Liberty have to feel the same after the biggest splash acquisition of their gaudy offseason haul is an MVP front-runner and the East captain for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas on July 15.
Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones were the other two big pieces general manager Jonathan Kolb brought in to help lift this franchise to its first-ever WNBA title.
The league’s all-time leader in assists, Vandersloot knew how important it was for the Liberty to get back on track. The Liberty won a game in which they hit eight 3-pointers or fewer for the first time this year, and the veteran point guard knew exactly why.
“Getting transition baskets, I don’t know how many we had, fast-break points, that’s an easy way to get some baskets when your 3s aren’t falling,” she revealed.
After going 2-1 on their road trip, the Liberty will return to Barclays Center on Wednesday night to host Phoenix.
New York beat the Mercury here in Brooklyn, 89-71, on June 18 behind 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists from Stewart.
Phoenix (3-12) has lost seven of its last eight contests, including Saturday’s 86-76 setback to visiting Minnesota.
Brittney Griner, who sat out her first visit to New York following her well-chronicled 10-month detainment in Russia last year, should be ready to go after putting up 23 points against the Lynx last weekend.
Also missing from the Mercury’s last trip into Brooklyn was Diana Taurasi, who managed only seven points against Minnesota.
The Liberty will also host the Storm here Saturday before heading to Indiana on July 12 for their final game before the annual All-Star break.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: Jones, who had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting vs. Seattle on Sunday, was disappointed but unfazed by New York’s loss in Las Vegas last week in the battle of the league’s goliaths. “(The Aces) are the team you can gauge yourself against. They have the best record in the league,” she said. “Obviously it hurts, we want to put our best foot forward. Ultimately we have the season to get better and learn from this.” … On Wednesday, the Liberty will once again support Bring Our Families Home with a letter-writing station to “raise awareness and support for individuals who are wrongfully detained overseas.” Fans will have the opportunity to write letters of support and compassion to wrongfully detained Americans, their families, and local representatives. The station will be set up on the arena’s main concourse outside Section 7.
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