Liberty aim for fourth straight before break
Visit slumping Indiana Wednesday in pre-All-Star finale
Winners of three straight and seven of their last eight contests overall, the New York Liberty will try to continue their roll entering the annual All-Star break when they visit the slumping Indiana Fever Wednesday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
All-Star captain and Most Valuable Player front-runner Breanna Stewart poured in 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds and fellow All-Star Sabrina Ionescu added 20 points and eight assists Saturday as New York held off Seattle, 80-76, in front of 6,789 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“We don’t expect anything to be easy,” said Stewart. “We know that everybody is going to give us their best shot.”
Courtney Vandersloot, also selected by Stewart to represent her squad in Saturday’s All-Star Game in Las Vegas, and Jonquel Jones added nine points apiece for the Liberty (13-4), who remained percentage points ahead of Connecticut (14-5) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The narrow win didn’t come easy against Stewart’s former teammates, who lost WNBA leading scorer Jewell Loyd to an ankle sprain early in the fourth quarter.
Loyd, who put up 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting, didn’t return to action and the Liberty took the lead for good on Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 5:39 left, snapping a 64-64 deadlock.
Ionescu drained another 3-ball on New York’s ensuing trip and Stewart’s shot from beyond the arc with just under four minutes remaining gave the Liberty a 73-68 cushion.
Vandersloot followed with a basket and Ionescu’s 24-footer 60 seconds later gave New York its biggest lead, 78-68.
But the Storm (4-14) would not be quelled, answering with an 8-0 run before Ionescu settled matters with a pair of free throws with 17 ticks remaining.
“We had to buckle down and got stops when we needed to,” said Ionescu, who drained half of her 12 shots from 3-point range, helping New York to a 13-for-30 performance from beyond the arc.
“Basketball is a game of runs, we know that,” she added. “These last couple of games, I feel like we continued to find different ways to score.”
The Liberty handed Seattle its fifth straight loss and will be looking to give Indiana (5-14) its eighth consecutive defeat.
The Fever, who gave up a franchise-record 45 points to Stewart in a 90-73 loss to New York at Barclays in the home opener on May 21, nearly got off the schneid vs. Dallas on Sunday.
Aliya Boston had 18 points and Nalyssa Smith added 17 for Indiana, which could have pulled out the win if Lexie Hull’s 3-point shot at the buzzer didn’t bound off the rim.
The Liberty will return to action following the All-Star break on July 19, when they host Dallas on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: Ionescu recorded her 500th career assist in her 84th game Saturday, making her the fourth-fastest to reach the milestone in WNBA history. … Former Liberty sharp-shooter Sami Whitcomb lit up her teammates for a team-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and three assists off the bench for Seattle Saturday. … New York shot 43 percent from 3-point range against the Storm compared to 40 percent overall from the field. … New York was outrebounded 48-30 by Seattle. “Credit to Seattle, their players came in hungry today,” said Brondello. “We know we’re better than that.”
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